The top 3 problems that keep managers awake at night – and how to fix them

Grevis Beard
February 13, 2019
Grevis Beard, Worklogic

Current studies suggest that most adults, ideally, should get between 7 and 9 hours of solid sleep per night. The cost of bad sleep has a real impact on the community, so much so that, the federal government recently launched a parliamentary enquiry into sleep health awareness.

In today’s post, Grevis Beard shares his insights into the top 3 problems that are keeping many of the managers we work with awake at night. In order to help you sleep, in today’s post he’s also given you some tips on how to fix them.

Problem 1: Addressing poor employee performance

Few managers relish the idea of telling someone that they’re not performing to the standard expected of their role and that their performance needs to lift.

For some, it’s the fear of how emotional the employee may become in hearing that news. For other managers, delivering the news doesn’t pose a problem but rather having to work through the organisation’s often highly complicated performance management process.

We’ve seen many examples where this leads managers into a state of paralysis, where “I’ll do it next week”, becomes “maybe next month”.

Risks of failing to address poor performance

Whatever the reason for kicking the problem down the road, the consequences of avoiding those conversations and processes are real and can be costly.

Allowing an underperformer to linger:

  • Can damage team morale with other team members working overtime (literally and figuratively) to take up the slack;
  • Can expose managers to risk if the work produced isn’t of the required standard and they’re called upon to explain why (and, why they didn’t do something about it); and
  • is not fair to the employee in question. Improvement is difficult if someone is not made aware that there is a problem in the first place.

The fix:

In order to make this process less painful and intimidating for managers, organisations need to:

  1. Ensure there are robust, sensible processes to measure and assess employee performance.
  2. Making sure that these are communicated to employees, and are followed by all
  3. Develop straightforward policies to guide managers in how to manage underperformance;
  4. Equip managers with the right skills to have these conversations and where necessary, provide them with hands-on training to build confidence in having difficult conversations.

Problem #2: The ‘bad’ boss

Running a close second to managing underperformance is the delicate challenge of effectively “managing up” – particularly how to deal with bosses that are behaving badly.

The impact of badly behaving bosses

There are seemingly infinite ways in which a bad boss can sap your sleep: feelings of being powerless to provide feedback or influence your boss’s behaviour can become, over time, overwhelming.

More broadly, that poor or damaging behaviour by those in authority will, if unchecked, certainly set the tone for what is accepted for standards of behaviour generally at that workplace.

For the organisation, the costs of inaction are numerous and can include:

  • Lower productivity and employee morale
  • Higher rates of employee stress leave (not to mention potential WorkCover claims);
  • Challenges to retain valuable current staff (who are often out of the door first) and attracting quality staff in the future; and
  • Serious reputational risk to the business from public claims of bullying, harassment or discrimination.

The fix:

Whilst training is essential to enable employees at all levels to understand and identify inappropriate behaviour, what is often overlooked is the need to empower employees to call out and, if necessary, report poor behaviour. Of course, the inevitable power imbalance makes having these conversations difficult.

In order to address this problem, organisations need to work with, and across, all levels within the business to:

  1. Set clear standards of behaviour in your organisational values statements and policies;
  2. Ensure everyone is trained in how to understand and identify inappropriate behaviour;
  3. Ensure all staff are given ways to gain better insights about how their workplace behaviour affects others;
  4. Provide all staff with “upstander” training and strategies in order to call out inappropriate behaviour by others (regardless of their position in the business); and
  5. Develop and communicate clear processes for reporting ongoing inappropriate behaviour.

Problem #3: Dealing with simmering conflict that erupts

As workplaces are made up of people, it’s reasonable to anticipate there will always be some level of conflict.

Conflict can be healthy and productive. We want employees to be able to respectfully discuss and debate differing opinions and perspectives. That way, creation and innovation lies.

At the other end of the scale, overt conflict within teams can also happen: whilst dealing with this keeps many managers awake at night, at least managers tend to know it’s happening, and can take steps to manage and resolve the issues at hand.

In our experience, it’s the third variety of conflict, the one that is simmers away below the surface, undetected by managers until they spectacularly erupt, which is the trickiest to manage. These situations are nightmare-inducing because:

  • the issue often comes to the manager’s attention in a public way (classically, one colleague abruptly refuses to work with the other, and the rest of the team gossip about what’s happened);
  • by the time the conflict bubbles to the surface, the issues are often very complex and require “heavy duty” intervention, with layers of toxic conflict over long periods of time to unearth; and
  • managers will likely be facing tough questions about how the situation was allowed to get to this point, without previous intervention.

The warning signs

In our experience, there are usually some warning signs to indicate that a storm is brewing:

  • Slower than usual productivity for example, may not be just due to adding that new project to the workload, but division within the team.
  • The recent high turnover of staff might not just be an unhappy coincidence but instead be due to the impact of a micromanaging team leader.

The fix:

What is critical is that organisations commit to ensuring their managers are provided with both the time, and appropriate support to learn, practice and enhance the essential management skills, needed to manage staff and teams effectively.

The skills I’m talking about here are the so called “soft skills”, which despite common belief, can be learned: I prefer to call them “interpersonal skills.”

The good news is that these problems can all be addressed and normal sleep patterns resumed!

About Grevis Beard

Grevis Beard is the co-founder and director of Worklogic. Grevis has significant knowledge of the dynamics of workplace disputes and their resolution. Grevis works with a range of clients to improve workplace communication, investigate inappropriate behaviour at work, manage workplace risks and handle complaints. He is an acclaimed speaker and author.

Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace complaints and create a positive culture at work.
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