At 10:00 a.m., Jennifer Williams, Account Manager, asked Jerry and Glenda to report to the conference room for a meeting. The unit had a deadline to compile a report for the Managing Director the following day for the client account on which they were working. Jerry and Glenda dash toward the conference room, complaining all the way.
“These people always put so much pressure on you with these deadlines, man,” grumbled Jerry. “They don’t give you a chance to get in the door!”
“That’s the truth. I barely got a chance to put my bag down and now there’s a meeting. I didn’t even get a chance to finish my portion yet. How can you finish anything when you’re in meetings all the time?” Glenda commiserated.
As they entered the conference room, they each raised their defenses in preparation for the tongue lashing they were sure to get from Jennifer. Sure enough, Jennifer was very annoyed that they had not made much progress in their work and said that she wanted to see each of them individually to assist them with meeting the required deadline. Her conversation was quite the same for both.
“I know you are working toward the deadline, but I also notice that you spend a lot of time either on the phone, in idle conversations and on breaks. While I don’t want the kind of work atmosphere that is always about work, it’s important that we recognize the importance of meeting these deadlines. If I’ve set one, it means that someone has set one for me, and it’s because of a commitment made to our clients. What can I do to help you meet the deadlines? Are you having a challenge with your assignments?” Jennifer queried.
“No,” is the abrupt response.
“Can I help you with anything?” Jennifer persists.
“No,” is yet again the curt reply.
In short, both employees are angry about being confronted about their productivity issues and feel that they are being picked on and are unappreciated. In Part One, we were introduced to Jerry and Glenda, who reported to work but clearly demonstrated that they were not working. What follows is what many managers in The Bahamas experience: the challenge of managing productivity.
1. Anger and Resentment
Employees may feel angry or resentful about being confronted about productivity issues. Like Jerry and Glenda, employees feel if they are ‘at work’, then they are working and do not understand the difference. They may express this anger in various ways:
• Passive Aggressive Behavior
Defined as a learned behavior from childhood borne of controlling parents or authority figures, persons that exhibit passive aggressive behavior do not openly express dissatisfaction because they feel they will lose approval; however, they hide their negative emotions in behaviors that indicate that something is wrong. Passive aggressive behavior is expressed through sarcasm, procrastination, poor performance, missing deadlines, losing documents, absenteeism and lateness at critical times or other forms of sabotage like damaging equipment, computer systems, and even the personal assets of managers. Their attitude quietly says, “I’ll show you!”
• Aggression, Abuse, and Violence
The other extreme of passive aggressive behavior is aggression. This person is not afraid to push back with open, hostile confrontation, criticism, name calling, shouting, cursing, and even physical violence. This behavior still indicates feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem and this learned behavior is a defense mechanism used to have people keep their distance and in essence, not inflict hurt or pain on the abuser.
• Withdrawal and Low Morale
Another way of dealing with confrontation and constructive criticism is to withdraw completely, losing interest in their work and in the company on the whole. They will withdraw their support and commitment to the manager and team, feeling unappreciated and targeted.
• Decreased Productivity
The one result of challenging the lack of productivity can yield the same result: reduced productivity. Again, a form of withdrawal and passive aggressive behavior, the worker may feel if the manager has a problem with his or her work, so by working even less, in his or her mind, means why do any more if what is done does not satisfy?
• Feelings of Inadequacy
At the root of many of these feelings and behaviors can be inadequacy and low self esteem. Criticism is taken as a personal attack, an expression of disapproval and lack of acceptance. At the core, these feelings translate the manager-employee conversation about performance and productivity as, “You don’t appreciate what I do. No matter how hard I try, I can’t please you so why do I even try? You don’t understand me. I can tell that you don’t care about me at all and what I’m going through. I’m doing my best.” You will note that this language is all inwardly focused, more about the self and the relationship with the manager rather than the work and the performance levels – the real issue at hand.
How can managers deal with these challenges effectively?
1. Open Communication
Try as much as possible to cultivate a working relationship of open, honest communication that is based on a relationship of mutual trust. Good communication on both parts will help both manager and employee to understand each other, share feelings, and clarify and confront issues.
2. Clear Goals and Expectations
Knowing why the work and deadline are necessary and what the performance expectations are help employees to perform at required levels. Making sure that there is real understanding about tasks and standards is critical and often both managers and employees have a different perspective of what is expected.
3. Clearly Communicated Consequences
Discipline is almost as dirty a word as work, and one of the hardest things for some managers to enforce. Consequences for lack of productivity need to be understood by all. Not only does it mean not meeting targets, affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire team or department, but it can even mean lost time, customers, and profits. What does all that loss translate to over time? Lost benefits and lost jobs. Persistent offenders must begin to feel the consequences of these impacts, even up to the point of termination.
4. Training, Coaching, and Mentorship
Poor productivity can mean low skills or confidence in completing certain tasks. If the employee does not feel comfortable enough to admit that he or she really isn’t sure about what to do, it will be hidden in a lack of productivity. Probing conversations, observation, and analysis can determine if this is the case. Watch for signs like excuses, blaming, getting others to complete the work, lots of errors, and waste. Managers will then have to determine whether employees need to be trained, coached one on one or mentored by the manager or another high-performing employee to increase skill and confidence levels.
5. Praise and Recognition
As simple as this may sound, some people stop performing when their efforts are not recognized, appreciated, or rewarded. In this age of Generation Y or Millenials especially, they are motivated by the WIFM rule: What’s In It For Me? Many are motivated by money and recognition. Others do not need public acclaim or monetary rewards, but just knowing that their work is noted and appreciated is enough. Even though some managers feel that salary is reward enough, employees – even managers – want to know that what they do has added value and meaning not only to themselves as professionals, but also for the department and manager, and the organization as a whole.
How can HR help? Two ways are by providing management development initiatives to help managers cope with these workplace challenges and create forums where both managers and employees can openly (and anonymously) express why they may not be performing optimally and address them appropriately. And finally, one that I hear most often: support the efforts of the managers to discipline and correct negative behaviors while providing mechanisms to recognize and reward improvements and achieved targets.