by Paula on March 11, 2013

In the last two weeks I have been involved with two separate situations where problems have arisen due to a break down in the relationships between a manager and staff members. In both cases the work environment was pressured, with lots to be achieved and deadlines to be met, and in both cases the managers felt this justified pressure onto the individuals concerned. However, the problem was not the pressure itself but the way the pressure was applied. To borrow and amend a Bananarama (yes, I am that old) lyric:

“It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it”

Scenario 1

An individual had been tasked with completing a piece of work by the end of the week. As the employee left on the Friday afternoon the manager asked, in front of the rest of the office, “Have you completed X piece of work?” The employee replied that he hadn’t, to which the manager’s angry response was to storm out of the office saying “The Director is going to hear about this”. What followed was some angry exchanges of emails, two people feeling very put out, a Director who was annoyed to have to be involved, and a further breakdown of an already fragile relationship.

Scenario 2

An individual had been working long hours on an important project with looming deadlines. On the Friday afternoon another weekend of working was ahead. The manager expressed crossly that he ‘expected’ the employee in in the morning. The employee asked why it was that he was doing his best and yet constantly felt like he was being told off, to which the manager replied “If you think you’re being told off now, you should see what happens next week if you’re not in at the weekend.” Couple this with regular unjustified threats of the sack and the situation was really headed nowhere positive.

As discussed in my last blog “If you break your people you break your business“, in any situation there are improvements that can be made on all sides. However as my business focus is on training managers, I am going to look purely at how the managers could have handed things differently.

What could the manager have done differently?

Scenario 1

  • Clearly expressed on the Monday what the expectation was and got the employee to confirm that back
  • Checked on progress during the week
  • Asked the employee whether the work was completed earlier in the day rather than as he was leaving
  • Held back on reacting angrily in front of team members and took the employee aside for discussion
  • Asked the reasons for non-completion of the task before rushing to discipline – there may be good reason
  • Dealt with the discipline of the employee if required once both sides had calmed down

Scenario 2

  • Recognised and been aware of the affect on an individual of constant long hours without break
  • Asked nicely: “I know things are difficult right now but we really need you to work again this weekend. Would that be possible please?”
  • Dealt with his own stress and struggles to manage that are giving rise to the need for aggression and intimidation as a way of managing
  • Asked if there was any additional help or support that could be offered to the individual

It is very easy as a manager to be so busy “getting the job done” that having to check, organise, control own stress, be polite & supportive etc feels like an ask to far, but as also discussed on my last blog, being a manager is not an easy job! It requires skills and experience, especially in middle management, to complete your own workload, juggle other individual’s needs and do all that with a mild manner and a smile on your face!

In both situations, if the individuals had been spoken to differently, the outcomes could be a lot more positive. Remember also that these are just examples of one conversation in these workplaces. Think about the affect on productivity, well-being, health and motivation that days upon weeks upon months of this can have…

So managers, please remember…

Yes there is a need to get the job done

Yes there will always be deadlines and pressure

No this pressure does not have to be applied in a way that causes the employee to sit there fuming rather than getting the job done.

Try a change of approach and see the positive affect this will have on them, their productivity and your own sense of achievement.

And if your management style is developed from watching your own manager rather than any guided understanding of your role, then training and help is available.



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