Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reducing the Risk of Violence with Better Relational Skills with Your Employees

In the workplace drug and alcohol use is the primary cause of violence, from fistfights to rape. About 15 people are murdered on the job each week. Surprised? They aren't all as sensational as Fort Hood, but hundreds of murders occur in the workplace each year.

Only exceptional cases make it to the national news, and certainly every one makes the local press. As a supervisor or manager, you want to ensure that you do not become famous in this particular way, so here are a few tips with regard to the relationship that you have with your employees. The most important is to listen, detect, and pay attention to their complaints.

Come down hard on employees who bully others, tease an employee for the behavior, ethnic background, funny looks, or odd poorly-formed social skills. Listen more to employees who are airing complaints. Give positive comments to employees and deal with any personal issues you have that interfere with your ability to demonstrate warmth and positive regard to employees.

Follow up more after an employee is terminated. Of course, this is usually a human resource function, and even HR may have a hard time doing.

Resistance to dealing with the employee's anguish makes this a tough assignment, but you must figure out how to insert support into the larger picture and not simply decide that the employee needs to lump it. Well, you can, but there are certain profiles of employee that present extraordinary risk if you decide to go this route.

The bells should go off if your employees is male, an historically poor performer or loner, has any fascination with guns, has previously threatened to act violently, has been working for the company for about five years, or is an ostracized, socially awkward, or bullied employee.

You know right now which employees in your organization are picked on, teased, held up to ridicule, or otherwise abused. These are ticking time-bombs.

So what if you terminate an employee along with HR helping you do it. Phoning the employee ain't likely. After all, the employee may hate your guts. So what's the answer.

Use your company's employee assistance program or EAP, and DO NOT involve them in the terminations, less they become "contaminated". They will not be able to provide support in the form of a listening ear later if you force the EAP into doing this. It is also arguable, inappropriate and unethical to surprise an employee with the EAP sitting in the termination interview. (Why? It violates the doctrine of client self-determination of asking for help, and not have the helper go to the employee. This doctrine applies to all helping professions. This is why psychologist don't knock on your front door or phone you to ask whether you need services.)

Long before ever having to terminate employee, make liberal use of the program as a referral source for dealing with troubled employees. That includes the following: Those with poor performance, victims of accidents or incidents, recipients of disciplinary actions, coworkers in conflict, employees with garnished wages or who come to your attention by way of media incidents, legal problems, or other behaviors, employees who tell you first about a personal problem affecting the lives or performance.

A newsletter to help your supervisor develop better relational skills with subordinates is FrontLine Supervisor. You can get a free trial subscription here. There is lower rate for any company with fewer than 100 employees. Ask about it. Or you can learn all about this publication here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How to Turn Away, Not Turn Off A Troubled Employee

You don't want troubled employees lining up at your door to discuss all the personal problems they experience in their lives. Unfortunately, I have seen things get almost this bad with some supervisors play an almost mother hen role with subordinates.

The trick is getting your employee, who may be incline to process personal problems until the cows come home, to turn to other resources available to them that are more effective than you. (I hope that didn't sound insulting, but only like a rat tail snap in the butt!)

If you are good listener, you have a double-edged sword working for and against you. It's difficult to turn away an employee who approaches you to discuss a personal problem. However, if your employees do come to share, it may be difficult to ask them to go somewhere else.

Appearing as though you are disinterested or too busy to care may be your biggest concern. Still, a counselor, doctor, mental health pro, or EAP is the better choice. To make your referral task easier, while minimizing the likelihood that your employee will feel rejected and stomp off, try the following:

  1. Appear interested and listen to the problem presented by your employee. (No problem with that.)
  2. Demonstrate empathy by acknowledging your employee's stress or anxiety. This helps the employee feel accepted and increases motivation for further problem solving.
  3. Tell the employee that you are glad he or she feels comfortable approaching you with an important personal problem.
  4. State that although you are concerned, you believe a better source of help would be_______. Hopefully your company has provided service or recommended statement to use when employees bring personal problems. Even if a company does not have an EAP, there should be some policy that essentially offers an officially sanctioned statement of referral to some community resource.
  5. Assist the employee in making contact with the recognized source of help by providing the phone number or inviting the employee to call from your office for an appointment. (Very effective.)