Supervising Employees Who Hate Their Jobs? Step In or Pay the Price.

hate job 3533132079_708cc8953a_mGrumbling  is one thing; hating quite another. Every job includes things we don’t like but hating is big.

Funny isn’t it, that when we start a new job, we’re so gung-ho. The work, the challenge, and the new relationships feel exciting and so promising.

So how do we go from all that eagerness to job hating?

Decline and fall.

Our jobs exist in a culture created by the leadership style of our supervisors who operate in a culture created by their managers and the leadership. It’s a chain.

Daily, we do our jobs along side coworkers who also perform within that same supervisor- created culture. So if we hate our jobs, it’s on our supervisor’s watch.

Alert supervisors pick up on the signs that we’re hating our jobs like:

  • lack of enthusiasm and energy
  • inattentiveness, slacking, and disinterest
  • flat performance levels and unwillingness to volunteer
  • whining, complaining, and fault-finding

More than likely, we don’t realize just how our job unhappiness is affecting us, showing on our faces, and becoming a detriment to our careers.

We should remember that our supervisors too may hate their jobs, creating an even more complex set of circumstances for them to handle.

No matter what, the failure of supervisors to intervene when employees are unhappy contributes to the decline and fall of all or part of any organization.

Step up with conviction.

Supervisor intervention around job hating is not about band-aiding: It’s about taking on the big issues that are turning employees off.

After seeing a study by Dale Carnegie Training that confirmed the extent of employee job hating, Ilya Pozin wrote an article for Huffington Post identifying the top ten reasons full-time employees hate their jobs .

Of the ten, these five, in my view, are ripe for immediate supervisor action. Taking them on and resolving them will contribute to healing the hating and bolstering leadership status. Pozin’s reasons are in bold italics below and my comments follow:

Their boss sucks. Supervisors need to lead so employees want to follow. So stop micro-managing, criticizing, keeping employees in the dark, and treating them like they’re either the enemy, game pieces to be pushed around, or stupid. Instead, listen to what they say and mean, ask for clarity, explain what you can and cannot do for them, and give them a chance to be creative.

They’re not being challenged.  Supervisors need to ensure that employees have diverse and interesting work to do, not just mundane, repetitive, and under-the-radar tasks. Give employees a chance to come up with a new approach, solve problems together, or switch off roles by ensuring cross-training.

There’s too much red tape.  Endless rules and hoops to jump through to complete essential work only frustrate employees who see that their ability to get things done is being hampered unnecessarily. Look for opportunities to increase decision-making authority for employees that reinforces your trust in them.

There’s no room for advancement. Feeling like you’re going nowhere in your job is debilitating. If there is no clear career path, there are always opportunities for supervisors to develop the capabilities of employees so they can cover for each other and for the supervisor. When employees feel they are growing and have added to their value, they see their jobs more positively.

Job insecurity. Employees routinely read the tea leaves about what’s going on in the company. It doesn’t take much to make them nervous about their employment. That’s why supervisors need to keep them informed about how the company is performing, address the rumor mill, and be transparent. Credible information goes a long way to liking your job.

 Avoid loss.

Good supervisors watch out for the well-being of their employees. Their ability to create and maintain a positive, high-performing work group is the true measure of a supervisor’s value.

When supervisors fall short, employees often leave or under-perform. Since both are avoidable, there should be a career price to pay by supervisors for letting that happen.

Photo by Adam Foster via Photoree

 

 

 

Relief for Leaders–Understand What Keeps You Up at Night

lipkin book 17987524I couldn’t resist the invitation to write a post about Nicole Lipkin’s new book with this irresistible title: What Keeps Leaders Up at Night: Recognizing and Resolving Your Most Troubling Management Issues. Having spent my own share of sleepless nights over the years, I could relate.

You’ve made it. You’re in charge. The lead is in your hands. It’s exciting and challenging, an opportunity to set direction, form a productive team, and impact the company.

Leaders set the tone and establish workplace culture. Their decisions affect employees individually and collectively along with the company’s customers, investors, and suppliers. It’s a big deal being the leader, sometimes bigger than we can fully grasp.

As leaders we get our real education about the scope and challenges of the job when things start to go wrong…not when things explode but when they start to erode.

Nagging concerns

As leaders we often get a sense that something isn’t quite right, but, gosh, if the work’s getting done, it can’t be that serious, right? But somehow we just can’t stop thinking about something we’ve done, observed, or heard that was unsettling. Whatever it is, it’s ours to handle.

In her new book, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, corporate psychologist Nicole Lipkin lipkin 6e4120eb91d40a7e9d9ac5_L__V388068734_SX200_targets eight of the most significant management issues that trouble us as leaders. Her focus is on the behaviors that drive both employees and leaders, building understanding through anecdotal situations, psychological studies, and remedies that we can adopt.

As leaders we make mistakes, some big and some small, some consciously and some unknowingly. To that Lipkin writes:

You can’t change what’s already happened, but you can change what you do next…I’ve learned that the solutions always begin with raising my self-awareness and helping others raise theirs.

So instead of self-flagellating, we need to step up to the plate and turn things around. Lipkin covers eight big issues that often plague leaders.Since I’ve written before about bad bosses,  I was drawn to this chapter:

I’m a Good Boss, So Why Do I Sometimes Act Like a Bad One?

Lipkin boils this issue down into three digestible bits. As the leader ask if you’re:

  • Too busy to win…Have I gotten so lost in the trees that I can no longer see the forest?
  • Too proud to see…Letting yourself get so tied to an idea that you won’t let it go.
  • Too afraid to lose…Question and second-guess every step along the way.

The consequences of failing to resolve this management issue are major, so facing your contribution to the problem is key.  Lipkin writes:

Self-awareness begins with admitting that you are human…your natural neurological and psychological make-up must cope with huge pressures….You see what you want to see.

Just pausing to cast an objective eye on your maladaptive or unproductive behavior or asking a trusted ally to tell you the honest truth…can get you back on track.

I have also written about the importance of managing expectations in the workplace, especially by bosses, so I was especially interested in her chapter on this sleep-threatening issue:

What Causes a Star to Fade?

Whenever we take a job or get a promotion, we start with great expectations of what the opportunity will contribute to our careers. In this chapter on the importance of employee engagement, Lipkin writes:

Every company and every boss enters into a psychological contract with their employees…an individual’s beliefs about the mutual obligations that exist between the employee and the employer.

When promises are known or perceived  by employees to be broken, they choose actions, as Lipkin notes, that fall into four broad categories:

  • Exit: Leaving or planning to leave the organization
  • Voice: Speaking up to address the breach with superiors, co-workers….
  • Loyalty: Suffering in silence and hoping the problem will solve itself
  • Neglect: Making a half-hearted effort to do the work

Each of these can negatively affect the business and induce a leader’s sleepless night.

And there’s more. Nicole Lipkin covers these questions too:

  • Why Don’t People Heed My Sage Advice?
  • Why Do I Lose My Cool in Hot Situations?
  • Why Does a Good Fight Sometimes Go Bad?
  • Why Can Ambition Sabotage Success?
  • Why Do People Resist Change?
  • Why Do Good Teams Go Bad?

Bedside reading.

I like a book that I can turn to easily when an issue jolts me into wakefulness. Lipkin’s book is an easy reference for her eight knotty problems. The psychological concepts are written in lay terms and posed in practical situations. Reading adds to our awareness and gives us tools to solve the problems unique to us.The right book and a handy nightlight can be trusty aids to restore our sleep.

Fired, Downsized, or Eased Out–Helping Employees Save Face

It’s awful. Letting employees go, no matter what the circumstance, is a dreaded task for respect 4621075758_6c21beb236_mmost managers.

That’s often the reason why they:

  • put the task off for too long
  • tell HR to take care of it
  • find a way to do it remotely
  • botch the conversation

Good managers understand that when they have to let one of their employees go, it’s the way they do it that will be remembered and become lore.

Be clear about why.

Employees are fired, downsized, or eased out for any number of reasons:

  • Poor performance, rule violations, improper conduct, or breaking the law
  • Company reorganization, elimination of a product or service, merger, process redesign, or technology changes
  • Inability to adapt to change, resistance to direction, or loss of performance value

In each instance there should be a valid set of circumstances to support separating the employee from the company. Whether they accept it or not, employees deserve to be told specifically what has led to the loss of their jobs.

This means the manager who delivers the message must understand and be able to articulate those facts clearly. That’s what often scares them.

No one likes to deliver bad news. In the working world, losing your job, for any reason, feels like career capital punishment.

Sure, there will be opportunities for future career steps–more than likely a job that’s a better fit in a company with a more compatible culture and a boss that you click with.

But when that hammer hits, most employees just feel the crush of it. Finding that new door that will open seems like a million light years away.

So no matter the reason for the “letting go,” the manager who must deliver the message knows that s/he will be facing a difficult conversation that may result in hurt, backlash, argument, or conflict.

Do what’s right.

When we get hired as managers, we’re expected to come to work with our big girl and big boy pants on. That means being present to do what’s right, particularly when it comes to our employees.

You can run but you can’t hide.

Any time you have to let someone go, the onus is on you. Your reputation (yes, brand) as a manager is enhanced or damaged by the way you handle the situation.

I’ve seen and heard about employees who learned they were  being let go when they:

  • came to work and found a dumpster in their offices
  • were met by HR or company security as they came to work and were immediately sent back to their cars with the news
  • called into HR and while there someone from the company was packing up their personal effects
  • got the news by phone or email, even while on vacation

I  worked with a high ranking corporate attorney who didn’t have one personal item in his office. When I asked why, he told me that’s so when he left or was asked to go, there was nothing for him to take along.

It’s about respect and humanity.

Telling employees that it’s their last day is stomach-churning and uncomfortable. You can’t predict how your employees will react and that doesn’t really matter.

What’s important is the way you treat them in their most unsettled and scary hour. That’s what they’ll remember and say about you after the dust settles.

Your respect and humanity toward your employees in those meetings are what enables them to retain a good portion of their self-esteem and self-confidence going forward.

No matter how awful their reactions may be toward you, you need to show them respect, patience, and caring.

That means you need to:

  • Prepare your conversation using respectful language and tone
  • Acknowledge their disagreement agreeably
  • Speak calmly and listen attentively
  • Encourage them to move forward

Losing one’s job can feel pretty humiliating. So anything managers can do to help employees save face and rebound is a gift. Our job is not to ruin our employees’ careers but to help them to plant their roots in the best soil and grow.

Photo by B.S. Wise via Photoree

Confronting the Employee Attitude Problem | Help for Supervisors

I wrote this post in March 2010 and it has enjoyed the highest number of page views. I realized that during my blog site switchover that searchers were having difficulty locating it. So it seemed like a good time to re-post it with a revised title.

employee attitude472_-3A supervisor’s nightmare—the employee with a “problem” attitude. Makes you feel like you just drew the Old Maid card.

What to do? You have an employee with a personality, work style, or temperament that is driving you crazy or aggravating others, making it harder to get the work done. And you don’t want to fire.

Performance appraisal is how supervisors save us from ourselves. 

Good supervisors use appraisal to teach and guide. Most employees with attitude issues aren’t aware of any problem: it’s just their way.

You know you’ve got an “attitude” problem employee when these things start to happen:

  • Peers would rather do a job alone than work with him/her
  • Discussion at a meeting goes dead when he/she speaks
  • S/he insists that work be done his/her way or hoards work
  • Direction is always questioned
  • S/he consistently criticizes, competes with, or dismisses the work of others

Each of these situations points to an attitude that needs defining. Where to start?

Connect “attitude” to observable behaviors that impact productivity.  

The first step in dealing with “attitude” issues is to demonstrate how the employee’s behavior is affecting the work. Here’s how you prepare:

  • Observe and take notes of specific instances (about 6) where the attitude was obvious.
  • Make a list of the impacts you saw, like defensiveness from others, resistance, stalled decisions, or delay.
  • Determine specifically how these impacts will affect the output of your work group.

Next meet with the employee to talk about their performance to date and your intention to coach them to improve:

  • Raise the attitude issue by sharing your recent observations, naming the dates and situations.
  • Explain what you observed and ask them to offer their perspective.
  • Be specific about the current and future impacts of their “attitude” on the productivity of the group.
  • Ask what they are willing to do to improve and how you can help them.

Raise the stakes and engage the employee in orchestrating his/her own change. 

Most of us don’t change unless there are negative consequences that we can avoid by doing things differently. The more we want to make a positive change and reap the rewards, the more invested we are in the work we need to do.

At this point, explain the next steps to the employee:

  • Together agree on a performance goal(s) for the balance of the year focused on the “attitude” change that needs to be made
  • Require the employee to write and submit a plan of action to achieve it
  • Establish how this change will be evaluated

Gather direct feedback from peers and internal customers. 

Nothing gets our attention more than knowing what others are saying about us, especially in the workplace. So here’s what you can do:

  • Develop 5-8 questions with the employee to be asked of their internal customers, focused on their approach to getting work done.
  • Identify 8-10 peers and internal customers that the employee will ask to answer those questions.
  • Develop a process and timing for collecting the feedback and submitting it confidentially to you.
  • Explain that, as the supervisor, you will also ask 8-10 people to respond.
  • Compile the feedback. Discuss summarized findings with the employee.
  • Reset his/her goals and strategies to improve.

If you are cringing about the effort this takes, I understand. But if you’ve ever fired anyone for poor performance, you know that the documentation, meetings, and general agony of that process make this look like a vacation.

The first pass at this requires the most work. The next time is much easier. How you handle your first “attitude” problem will gain you enormous credibility with your employees. It’s an approach that demonstrates your commitment to helping employees succeed. Being business fit means taking the lead when the chips are down. This is one of those times.

What kinds of “bad attitudes” have you witnessed in the workplace? How were they handled? Any ideas to add? Thanks.

Photo from Freedigitalphotos.net

5 Supervisor Mistakes That Can Breed Employee Backlash

Supervision is a game of chance. Winning or losing often depends on how you treat your employees. Are you:Back to the Drawing Board

  • Fair or double-dealing
  • Honest or hypocritical
  • Aware or clueless
  • Self-serving or an advocate

Attract too many negative labels and you may breed employee backlash–often the death knell of a supervisor’s career.

Emerging signs  

Managing the range of employee expectations is a daunting challenge. Supervisors who tune out employees will soon find themselves dealing with unwanted and unexpected behavior.

Suddenly, some or all employees:

  • Stop giving input at meetings
  • Grumble consistently about assignments
  • Become de-energized and less productive
  • Challenge policies
  • Complain to others about you
  • Resist your direction, overtly or covertly

You know the situation is serious when you observe these signs in your best employees.

Supervisors often unknowingly generate backlash when they see their management style through their lens only. A supervisor’s job is a juggling act. Upper management, customers, and suppliers often create an engulfing noise can make a supervisor deaf to the voices and needs of their employees.

Sadly, there are also many supervisors who, for some reason, are uneasy with their own employees. When that’s the case, they tend to go into hiding, in a sense.  They may stay in their offices, quote policy instead of owning their decisions, and/or take inflexible positions on the way work is done.

Communicate without fear.

Supervisors make their own trouble with employees when they don’t communicate what they do and why.

Many feel that if they say the wrong thing, they’ll get themselves cornered with employees down the road. But saying nothing only plants the seed for future conflict and backlash.

Here are six typical mistakes that supervisors make and how to avoid them:

  1. Making a knee-jerk decision. Just because an employee wants an immediate decision doesn’t mean that you must give one, especially when you have several implications to consider. Instead, say that you want to give the request more thought with a decision forthcoming at a specific time. Then make sure you deliver it.
  2. Taking a defensive position when challenged. Employees who question your decisions give you an opportunity to educate them about the needs and direction of the business. Your logic and insights help to expand theirs. If their questions cause you to rethink your position, then they’ve done you a favor and have created a special professional bond.
  3. Being dismissive about employee input–Your employees are your team; they make or break your ability to succeed as a supervisor. Treating their input as insignificant builds a wall that can create animosity. Employee input is gold. It helps you understand expectations that you need to manage and can provide ideas that can lead to important improvements that everyone benefits from.
  4. Avoiding face-to-face conversation–There is nothing more alienating to employees than a supervisor who is invisible, distant, and unapproachable. When employees feel disconnected from their bosses, their loyalty bond is likely to be weak. Supervisors need to be real by being present, eyeball-to-eyeball–not text-to-text.
  5. Continuously quoting policies and procedures–Supervisors need to own their decisions to engender respect. Too many supervisors don’t want to make decisions that they may need to defend, so they quote a policy instead Policies and procedures set foundations and parameters but they aren’t recipes. Supervisors need to apply policies in ways that meet their intent. Employees expect you to take actions that deliver the right results in ways that support them..

Be there.

Being upfront puts supervisors in a position to create respect and confidence in employees. No employee believes that their boss will be right all the time. They just need to feel connected.

Supervisors who communicate with their employees, who are honest about what they do and don’t know, and who can be trusted to do what they say, will create the kind of relationship employees need–one that will hold up in good times and rough ones.

Photo from gever tulley via Flickr

How Supervising a Small Group Prepares You for the Big Stage | Learning to Lead

Bad supervisors are everywhere. Some know they’re bad and don’t care. Some are clueless. But most desperately want to do better.small group 2528391784_86bfb5b6c9_m

Most of us don’t want to go to work and be known for doing a poor job. Too often, new supervisors were great technical performers inexperienced in how to lead others. Once they’re in the job, they discover that their success is measured by how well others perform under their direction.

That’s when many panic and make a mess of things by:

  • Micromanaging
  • Holing up in their offices
  • Giving orders and shunning feedback
  • Withholding information
  • Clinging to confidants

New supervisors often feel self-conscious, uncertain, and/or afraid because they really don’t know what to do. So they muddle along, maybe even reading a how-to-supervise book or taking a training course. But often, it may be too little too late.

Start small.

The best thing that can happen to a new supervisor is being assigned responsibility for a  small group.

It can be as small as one (although smart companies stay away from one-on-one or even two-on-one reporting). Three employees, in my view, would be the perfect start.

Why is that? Because it requires the new supervisor to deal with a triangle. (No love triangles, please.) Three employees promise enough work style, personality, and performance challenges to deal with like:

  • Balancing work load
  • Dealing with attitude differences
  • Engaging them as a team
  • Communicating clearly and effectively
  • Implementing policies and procedures fairly
  • Addressing unwanted behaviors
  • Setting boundaries
  • Evaluating and rewarding performance

In a small work group, the margin for supervisory error is small. That means if you botch a decision or an action, it quickly reverberates among all employees who will react in ways that you will have to contend with in order to restore the balance.

Lead like it’s big.

Small work groups can make a big difference no matter the size of the company.

That means you need to supervise three as though they were thirty. This isn’t a club you’re in charge of; it’s a business unit representing a significant investment in salary and benefits. The group is expected to contribute output that directly or indirectly impacts profitability.

So take charge of the expectations management has of your group. Approach your three professionally, so they see themselves as significant and you as their means to success.

Effective small group supervisors do exactly what successful corporate executives do. They lead.

As soon as you become the supervisor, assemble your group and communicate:

  • What the group is there to do (what business you are all in together)
  • Your style of supervision (meeting frequency, information needs, hot buttons)
  • Direction for the next year plus perspectives about the future
  • SMART performance goals for the group (Then set up meetings to establish their individual performance goals for the year.)
  • The kind of operating culture you desire (teamwork, cross-training, informal and formal communication, integrity, general conduct)

Your small work group is your training ground. If you aren’t comfortable taking this approach with three people, imagine how overwhelming it would be with three times as many or more.

(By the way, you can also get supervisor-like experience by being a team leader too.)

Positioning yourself for more

Great supervisors get great results. When your small group produces more and better work with you at the helm, you will be noticed and so will your employees.

Great supervisors are a rarity. Employees who have them sing their praises. They want you to succeed because when you do, they do too.

Employees know that the buck stops with you and you’ll need to make decisions along the way that they won’t like. They’ll respect you for that even though they might gripe.

By learning to lead in a small group situation, you position yourself for roles with broader scope, more employees, and a position on the organizational pyramid that will make you and your early employee team very proud.

Photo from whidbychick via Flickr

Dumb Stuff Happens If We Let It. Do You? | Change to the Rescue

Change fascinates me, so when I was invited to review and blog about Neil Smith’s new book, How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things, I was all in and never looked back.

Do you gnash your teeth about:

  • Procedures that don’t make sense and processes that weigh you down
  • Managers who don’t/won’t fix things or crush new ideas
  • Band-aid decision that don’t cure the problem
  • Money wasted on products/services that customers don’t like

Well, you’re not alone.

Every company or department or work unit suffers certain inadequacies that get in the way.

The antidote is to make those “dreaded” changes that we know we need but often paralyze us.

But we can’t have improvement until we make change part of the way we work. So it’s time to buck up and do what needs to be done.

Pin-pointing the problems

Neil Smith’s book, How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things, is a great place to start. His focus is in his subtitle, Breaking the 8 Hidden Barriers That Plague Even the Best Businesses. Get a handle on those barriers and you’re ready for action.

He starts out with this resounding observation:

How do I know that your company is like all the others? Because there are two things that every single company has: hidden barriers that prevent great ideas from surfacing…and employees with great ideas for how the company can do things differently.

His eight hidden barriers are:

  1. Avoiding Controversy
  2. Poor Use of Time
  3. Reluctance to Change
  4. Organizational Silos
  5. Management Blockers
  6. Incorrect Information and Bad Assumptions
  7. Size Matters
  8. Existing Processes

Neil covers each one with compelling observations that drive home the behaviors and attitudes that get in the way of improvements, growth, and change in the business. Then he includes fascinating and illustrative real-life examples of how each barrier plays out.

I’ve written frequently here about problem managers, so I was struck by his on-the-mark portrayal of barrier #5–Management Blockers.

He writes about managers who block improvement ideas suggested by employees:

  Good ideas can get shot down not for perceived lack of merit but because a manager feels threatened by them in some way:

  • Fear of a boss’s reaction
  • Fear of underlings shining
  • Fear of losing power and influence
  • Fear of having to do work

As a consequence of this barrier, he adds:

Employees are generally powerless in such situations.

Companies have to ensure there is are processes that allow ideas to be surfaced and considered in an objective way.

Neil advocates identifying all the barriers to change, both behavioral (he includes perspectives  by personality expert, Dr. Richard Levak) and business bottom-line, before crafting a change plan to turn things around.

The fix

Change isn’t easy, so Neil reminds us that everyone has to be in the game.

He offers “12 Principles for Breaking Barriers” to achieve the change that’s needed. His first two are, in my view, the backbone of them all:

Principle #1

 The process is personally led by the CEO and supported by senior management.

If the CEO does not take the change project seriously, no one else will. People need to think of the change project as the CEO’s own.

Principle #2

The entire organization is engaged–not merely involved–in the change process.

His reasons are:

  1.  Everyone feels invested in the change process….
  2.  Involving the whole company demonstrates that…every part of the organization is expected to contribute to the change.
  3. Middle management may provide the big-dollar ideas, but small impact ideas matter.
  4. Taking the entire organization through the change project at the same time creates a cross-organizational momentum that allows ideas to be considered and quickly resolved by the right people.
  5. Just occasionally there is a brilliant idea…hiding in the workforce.

It’s about leadership

Effective leaders don’t accept “dumb things” taking place on their watch. Each of us, no matter our job title, is positioned to take the lead around our work. That means we each have an obligation to recommend and/or participate in change with full commitment.

Neil’s book is rich with insights and strategies, case studies and encouragement. At the very least, he helps you to see more clearly what’s really going on around you and a way to get the “dumb” out of the system.