Browsing the archives for the therapist tag.

Managing People: Don’t become a therapist (Part 2)

Geek 5, Managing people

In the last post, we looked at why it is important not to become a therapist for your direct reports.  Here are some common scenarios you could run into and recommended responses.

1.  Medical concerns

 Some people have legitimate medical concerns and others just like to gripe about every ache and pain.  For the first case, your associate should inform you about any medical concerns that could impact attendance or requires special arrangements.   Don’t ask too many questions unless the information is offered.  If the associate is asking for accommodation (ADA) or time off (FMLA or disability leave), it is time to get HR involved. 

If the associate confesses to a problem (like addiction) and needs help, you should refer them to your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  Even in the case of someone with a genuine medical concern, your conversations should not be too personal or get too frequent. 

The second case involves an associate who like to gripe and there is not a significant issue.  In these cases I recommend trying to redirect his or her attention to more positive, work-related subjects.  If that fails, then be more direct about stopping the griping.  It is not a good use of your time to listen to personal gripes.  You should also determine if the associate is burdening team members with the same information.  I’ve been amazed at some of the cubical conversations that I have heard – and that everyone around the area has heard!  I’ve heard details about afflictions, symptoms, operations and pus and sores – just plain gross!  Put a stop to it if it is happening.  A coaching conversation about professionalism in the office could be a big help.  You will be a hero to the burdened co-workers who have been distracted by the medical talk.

2.  Family problems

 We all have lives outside of work and sometimes those lives creep into our workplace.  You’ve got your run-of-the-mill concerns with soccer games and doctor appointments and family emergencies.  The thing to watch out for are the situations that turn into epic family dramas.  We all know people who thrive on drama.  They seem to make a series of bad decisions and then despair when things go wrong.  They can never seem to get out of the destructive situation and get back on track.  These can range from unhealthy personal relationships to serious financial issues to trying to save someone else (kid, sibling, friend) from themselves.  These cases become a problem when the associate wants to to lean on you for emotional support or wants you to help or expects you to overlook absences, poor performance and distractions. 

You can listen in order to understand the situation.  But, ultimately, the associate needs to handle the personal drama while maintaining solid work performance.  If the problems are big and the associate wants help, your EAP is a good option.  EAPs usually offer counseling (personal, marital, financial, etc.) and emergency interventions.  If an associate is not getting work done. you need to set expectations very clearly and then hold him or her to the expectations.  Don’t feed the drama and become co-dependent.  Hold the associate accountable for work.

One quick note – especially related to family issues.  We live in troubled times and the level of workplace violence has escalated.  In many of these cases, a family member brings a gun to the workplace and causes havoc.  If you have any concerns about violence from the associate or from a family member, you must get HR and your security team involved.  That is one of your obligations as a leader.  Welcome to the big leagues.

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Managing People: Don’t Become a Therapist (part 1)

Geek 5, Managing people

There are a lot of rules you have to learn when you become a manager of people.  Some of them are legal rules like knowing the proper questions for interviews, the basics of EEOC and FMLA, etc.  If those acronyms don’t mean anything to you, you should sit down with an HR person and get a quick refresher of the basic legal stuff.   Some rules are guidelines or processes for tasks like how to have a difficult conversation or put someone on a corrective action plan.

There are also a lot of unwritten rules.  One of those rules is that you should never become a therapist for your direct reports.  Huh?  What does that mean?  It means that you need to know where the line is between helping a direct report with work-related issues and getting sucked into their personal dramas.  The complication is that the line is fuzzy and sometimes hard to see – you need to use your managerial judgment about this.   Why is this important?  Some reasons include:

  • It’s a time suck for you
  • It can be uncomfortable to know personal details about a direct report
  • It can cause you to be too lenient and not hold the person accountable
  • Your other direct reports could see it as favoritism
  • It is distracting for work during work hours
  • You might find yourself too involved in a personal situation

As a manager, you are responsible for helping associates with work-related issues.  One filter for you is to consider whether or not an issue impacts business performance or other associates.  With projects and tasks you might sometimes needs to run interference to get something back on track.  But if an issue is drama-based, you should coach the associate to deal with it or at least set the expectation that work performance needs to stay solid.

Drama can take many forms and is often spun to look like it is job-related.  Drama can be about family – such as an associate coming to you to unload about her divorce proceeding and about how the soon-to-be-ex spouse is evil incarnate.  Drama can be personal – such as the associate who comes to you to complain about his sciatica, corns and acid reflux.  Drama can also be tangentially work-related – such as the long-term associate who feel entitled to a cube by the window due to seniority.

Caring and listening does not have to translate into becoming someone’s therapist.  You can listen compassionately to drama-related issues when needed, but don’t let it become an ongoing role.  You have to draw the line.  As a manager your must also continue to hold them accountable for their work.  If you become a therapist, you might feel compelled to give them too much of a break when they are not performing well.  In today’s workplace, we’re all faced with too little people for too much work.  If you continually excuse one worker due to personal drama, the weight falls on everyone else.  You should expect solid work performance regardless of outside drama.

You need to be fair and balanced in your approach.  It is different to give some a day or two off to care for a parent who just had a heart attack versus dealing with weekly absences due to marital trouble.  As a manager, you are responsible for complaints that cross a legal line such as harassment, hostile workplace, violence, discrimination, etc.  When you encounter these, get HR help.  You are also responsible for the work of your team.  You are not responsible for solving someone’s personal problems.  It is okay to coach your associate about work performance, even if you know there are other issues.

In the next post, we’ll cover some common “therapist” traps and how to respond to them.

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