Tech & Work

Staff management: Beware the simmering pot

Personnel issues are always a bit tough, but it's best to deal with them upfront instead of letting them fester. As a manager, you need to keep an eye on troubling employee behavior, especially if it starts to have a pattern.

Personnel issues are always a bit tough, but it's best to deal with them upfront instead of letting them fester. As a manager, you need to keep an eye on troubling employee behavior, especially if it starts to have a pattern.

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When you go to the doctor with a health issue, he or she will do an inventory of your symptoms to identify the underlying problem and then set a course of treatment. She does this because she knows that just treating a symptom will not cure the disease.

Managers would do well to share this philosophy. Too many times we treat personnel issues on a case-by-case basis and never consider that there may be a bigger issue at hand. And sometimes, by ignoring a bigger problem, you are setting yourself up for a bigger fall-out. In some cases, the fall-out could culminate in an EEOC case against your company.

Let's say Employee A comes to you to tell you she thinks a remark made by Employee B was sexist. You handle the situation by talking with Employee B who admits to making the remark but did not mean it as it sounded. He promises to better police himself going forward. A couple of weeks go by, and Employee A appraoches you again about a different instance in which she felt that another co-worker had slighted her.

At this point, most reasonable managers should see a red flag. Two such instances indicate that a) your workplace is a fiery pit of sexism, or b) this particular employee may be prone to misinterpreting certain actions and remarks. Either way, you need to delve deeper. Even if you think "it's just her" and leave the situation alone, she is on record for having reported these incidents. If you take no action, or take the usual band-aid action, you're not eliminating the core issue. If your organization has an HR department, it's best to get them involved as soon as you see a pattern developing.

Facing an issue upfront can work in a case when you have two employees who just don't like each other. If something like that is left to fester for too long, productivity will suffer. Let it go even longer, and the circumstances could be more dire. It's easier to sweep things under the rug, particularly when confrontation is involved, but the sooner you diagnose with the symptoms, the sooner you will find the cure to the problem.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

5 comments
coffeedrinker
coffeedrinker

It's so true about nipping it in the bud or it festers. I was in a situation where I was leading a project and getting a good deal of recognition for it. Simultaneously, I had a personal crisis to take care of on the home front, and my boss was working with me to balance my schedule to fill all these needs. A coworker (who was close friends with me!) started complaining about my unorthodox hours and amount of time I was putting in. My boss was worried he would get in trouble with upper management for allowing me to flex my time, so he didn't support me. I will never understand why my friend did this, and why my boss did not bring both of us in to discuss and work it out, but he privately told me she felt threatened by my success and betrayed me out of self-preservation and jealousy. He told me to get a thick skin. The situation at work ever since has been tense - it will be 2 years in April. I still can't believe she sacrificed our friendship. Now the pecking order has been restructured, the old boss is gone and a new guy is here, and my former friend will now be my supervisor. How can I expect anything other than more betrayal and undercutting? Can you say SCREWED?

Guitockey
Guitockey

It definitely helps to nip things in the bud as much as possible. I was a supervisor of 8 people for a US Army contract overseas. There was a situation with two of them that I inherited from the previous supervisor that I tried to defuse. It got way out of hand, almost coming to blows. Using what I learned from that situation, I was able to identify a similar personality conflict between two others in my shop. I got them together and gave each a chance to air their grievances. At the end, I just had to lay down the law: "You guys don't have to like each other, but we're all here in close proximity, both in our lives and our work, so you need to be civil to each other." I would imagine in a regular workplace, sometimes you may have to issue an ultimatum: You don't have to like each other, but you do have to work together or find somewhere else to work.

travellingpolander
travellingpolander

I was eating with my co-worker girlfriend when suddenly the Chaplain (since I'm currently working in a hospital) and the Marketing Manager popped-up out of nowhere and did a typical gesture saying something like a wedding ceremony. I was so pissed. I told them to respect the privacy of people (especially co-workers). Except from the "touchy" Chaplain, from that day forward, they didn't bother me again.

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