on January 26, 2016
Bosses typically deal with a unique kind of stress that is the result of overseeing other human beings who (as humans) will inevitably…
- Make mistakes
- Fall short of expectations
- Miss work for illness and a variety of other reasons
- Get distracted by personal issues, and
- Do who-knows-what because they have unique personalities, opinions, ideas, strengths, experiences, perspectives, and motives. Etcetera.
As a workplace culture consultant, I work with a lot of bosses. And without exception every one of them talks about the stress of overseeing people.
To minimize this stress, I encourage bosses to:
1. Accept the fact that employees are human. Human beings make mistakes, fall short of expectations, miss work for illness and a variety of other reasons, get distracted by personal issues, and do a variety of things that seem right to them because of their unique personalities, opinions, ideas, strengths, experiences, perspectives, and motives. Etcetera. This includes you and me: we each do all of these things. If you can’t accept the fact that human beings aren’t perfect, and that every employee will make mistakes, please do everyone a favor and find another job, or hire other more understanding people to be the boss.
2. Clarify everything. I recently worked with a boss who complained about an employee that would occasionally get up and leave work half an hour early.
“Have you spoken with her about it?” I asked the boss. The boss responded, “No, but she should know the rules around here.” (Bet the employee doesn’t know that rule, I thought.) Then I coached the boss on how to talk with the employee about the issue.
Before the boss had that meeting, I had an opportunity to talk with the employee myself, about another issue. While we were talking, I casually asked her what time her workday ended. “My day officially ends at 4:30, she said, “but occasionally I have to leave at 4:00 to take my son to an appointment. I’m so fortunate to have a boss who doesn’t mind if I do that!”
Not only is this a true story, I hear similar conflicting versions of the same story all the time.
Here’s what happened. The first time the employee had to leave early, she talked to her boss about it the day before. The boss said, “No problem! We all have things like that happen once in awhile. Don’t think twice about it — just leave when you need to leave.”
The boss was being supportive (which is wonderful), and let the employee know that leaving early the next day was not a problem. The employee heard something different, though. She heard her boss say that it’s no problem to leave early any time she needs to.
From experience, I can tell you that all bosses fail to clarify things for employees, including expectations, how performance is measured, what priorities should be, who employees report to, opportunities for advancement, and when they’ll be eligible for a raise — in addition to dozens of non-clarified rules, processes, and procedures having to do with work hours, absences, vacation, breaks, and so on.
When the boss doesn’t clarify, employees make assumptions, do what they think is right, guess, do their best, wing it. They usually feel that they’re supposed to know, so they’re reluctant to ask for clarification and risk looking stupid.
3. Meet individually with employees, frequently and consistency. During these conversations, ask and answer questions, continue to clarify and discuss expectations, provide feedback, demonstrate appreciation, encourage, offer your help, and make it clear they are being held accountable.
Accountability is a critically important topic, and bosses who don’t hold employees accountable have the highest levels of stress, frustration, anger and disappointment. I will cover it in detail in my next post.