When the job brings you to tears

Recently, I’ve met quite a few women who tell me they cry regularly because of their job. These are well educated professional women in their forties and fifties. When I ask them to tell me about what triggers this emotion, most of them tell me it is the treatment they receive on a regular basis from their supervisor or sometimes even a co-worker.I’ve worked with many individuals and groups to help them understand the work behavior of others. Sometimes a challenging boss is misunderstood as overly critical. The team member may feel they are not appreciated by the boss when he questions all of her ideas. The employee may even feel concern for her job while the boss just wants to make sure all output is successful and accurate.

This is a common theme in the work world. We all have different motivations and fears that drive us and those are expressed by the way we behave and communicate in our everyday responsibilities. Conflict may occur when two or more people approach work differently. I have found great success working with teams and individuals using a behavioral assessment called DiSC.

While workplace conflict may cause a high level of stress for the people involved, I sensed that these women were talking about something more. I asked more questions and was amazed at what I heard. All of these women had supervisors or co-workers who not only criticized them regularly, but berated them with demeaning language and tone. This created a very toxic environment for these women to work. I began to understand why they made it a daily practice to cry at the end of their day.

I tried to understand the motivation of the supervisors who are regularly speaking down to their team members. Is it because they have a lot pressure on them from above to perform? Or, maybe their supervisors speak that way to them and they are just managing the way they learned. My true question is, does it work? Does yelling at your employee and calling them names motivate them to perform at a higher level? It may in the short term. I have seen management by fear produce the desired results in rare cases, but have never seen it work in the long term. I suspect that the desired results could have been achieved at a higher level had the manager’s approach been different.

Managing employees is never easy. We all make mistakes on a daily basis. There can be some really high stakes involved for a manager or business owner if an employee doesn’t perform to the expected level. Everyday I ask myself, “Did I do right by my employees today?” If I didn’t get the results I wanted from one or more of my employees, what could I have done differently? Did I provide them with all of the resources they need to perform at the high level I expect? Did i give them the room they need to perform and empower them to do so? Do we have the same expectations of results? If we don’t, how do I help them find a home where they will be happy and successful? Is that home in my organization in a new position or is it somewhere else?

I once received some advice from a colleague I highly respect who said in any conversation you want to make sure all parties walk away feeling respected. How do we, as supervisors, discuss poor performance with our employees yet make sure they leave the conversation with their dignity in tack?

I am not advocating allowing poor performance to go unnoticed. Instead, I suggest approaching it in a way that gets your point across, but also shows respect for the individual. Here are a few pointers:

* Recognize good performance often. That way when you do need to give constructive feedback, your employees won’t feel like that is only thing they hear from you.

* Use a new Oreo approach. The Oreo approach where you start with positive feedback, sandwich in the constructive feedback, and finish with positive feedback has been used for years. I’d like to suggest slight change on this approach.

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Start by recognizing something the employee is doing well. Instead of brushing over this, discuss it for moment. Ask the employee what he or she contributes to their success in that area. For example, if the employee is an administrative assistant who always gets projects done in a timely matter, ask her what techniques she uses to keep on task.

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Next, bring up the area you need to see improved. Maybe she comes in late to work regularly which means your office is not opened on time. Explain the results of her behavior and how it affects the overall business. Now, relate the techniques she described that work for her in other areas to the behavior you need to see changed.

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End with a written plan of the steps the employee is going to take to improve. Many times this requires a commitment on your part as well, such as additional training.

Sometimes the traditional Oreo approach makes the positive feedback sound forced and not genuine. We also get caught up in making sure we sandwich the constructive feedback in positive comments, that the intended message of what needs improvement gets lost. This alternative approach recognizes the employee’s value, points out areas for improvement, and asks the employee to commit to a plan to improve their performance.

The next time you get frustrated with an employee’s performance, ask yourself if you are taking that frustration out on the employee or are you helping them to find a way to be successful.


About Andrea

Andrea Hoffer brings a unique perspective to consulting and training. A small business owner with 35 employees herself, she knows first hand the everyday challenges of motivating employees, exceeding customer expectations, and meeting business and revenue goals. Contact Andrea to help you improve the experience you offer your customers and employees.


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