As a Manager, you by default get bestowed with the tag of ‘Jack of all, master of none’. But the question of whether or not you’re a smart jack rests solely in your hands. Is it just technicalities and work processes that matter? Isn’t being a mentor much more than just guiding your employees through training periods and difficult projects? Knowing your employees on a slightly personal level is just as important. This does not mean interfering in deeply personal matters of course. It means to know what external factors may be affecting your employees and resulting in strained interpersonal relationships or lowered work quality. When work grievances are rising and the anonymous feedback portal is overflowing with complaints and potential escalations, know that it may not necessarily mean that the work place is toxic or that the conventional routes of employee engagement are failing. It could, instead, mean that external circumstances are affecting individual lives, and that people are having a hard time leaving their problems outside the office. While circumstances can never be completely in anyone’s control, knowing your employees better could help you make better decisions and separate those who actually lack commitment for the job from those who are going through an internal conflict that they simply need help to rise out of.
Flex those work muscles!
Realize that as a leader and decision-maker, empathy and a sense of understanding can go a long way in ensuring that you and your employees are on the same side of the fence. Customize your policies to suit your peers and team members – more flexible work hours, more work from home. According to a survey by FlexJob, 75% of people felt that they would be more productive working from home due to fewer distractions and interruptions from colleagues, as well as less involvement in office politics. Another study by Robert Half puts some perspective on this. It found that 77% of workers would readily accept a job offer if they had the option of telecommuting at least some of the time. So, the requirements are not unreasonable. No one is asking to be completely excused from being present, but people do want flexibility and the availability of alternate options when needed. That guy in the corner seat who is always making jokes? He may silently be fighting a battle with depression. That five-year-old star performer who always comes early to work and leaves office last? She may be going through hell (read verbal abuse) at home for her dedication towards work. Flexibility can help them feel higher job satisfaction, achieve higher productivity, and work towards a better work-life balance.
Assistance is key
An open and positive work culture also demands the inclusion of an Employee Assistance Program – Not one where employees can log onto a portal and be witness to fancy self-help videos that teach them something new, but still leave them just as isolated and alone as before. Then what? A professional counselor – Plain and simple. It is personal, human empathy that is required, backed by professional certification which will result in constructive solutions and can even be the starting point for much-needed ongoing therapy. Of course, no one should be forced into therapy at the workplace, however the option should be freely available, and protected with utmost integrity and confidentiality. According to a 2015 estimate by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), one out of twenty Indians can benefit from professional counselling for mild to severe mental illnesses, and with costs being between Rs. 500 and Rs. 5000 per 45 minutes, with more qualified and experienced independent therapists charging Rs. 2000-4000 an hour, many people either cannot afford it or are reluctant to shell out the extra cash. The presence of a counselor can ensure an employee that there is someone objective, someone certified and backed by expertise, and most importantly someone from outside the realm of their colleagues and superiors who can focus solely on them and their issues, rather than having productivity and profits running in the background of the dialogue. Tie up with a professional counselor, especially one who has experience and training in handling work-related and personal concerns so your employees and team members have someone to fall back on when they need help maneuvering professional concerns stemming from internal issues.
Appreciation – The biggest form of motivation
In many organizations, managers have been allotted budgets to facilitate ‘engaging activities’ within teams. But often, this budget and the activities end up as badges and trophies – material rewards. How about taking your team out for a film post work? Or conducting a one-to-one chat over lunch outside the office premises to really understand why an employee’s work quality or presence is suffering?
When employees feel ‘undervalued’, no matter how good their appraisal was, there are chances of another percentage being added to your rate of attrition. The solution is simple and fairly effective. Tell them not just where they could have done better, but also, where they did great. Ever considered writing a mail to the client seeking feedback, and then redirecting that same email with appreciation to the entire team, congratulating that one individual whose performance was exceptional?
As the age old saying goes: “If I’ve made a mistake, confide in me in person. If I’ve done something right, appreciate me in public.” Empathy-driven wisdom never goes out of relevance.
Security keeps us alive
Job insecurity leads to absenteeism. You don’t need be your peer’s Facebook, constantly asking them “What’s on your mind?” But once in a while, a “Hello, hope everything is well at your end”, can make a tremendous difference. If a healthy culture is to be disseminated top-down, a healthy work environment should also be the responsibility of the leaders.
Pick transition over rustication and let there always be transparent communication. Let there be a healthier ‘FOMO’ – Not on deadlines but on actually living life! Ask your peers and employees to take a vacation when you see them draining themselves – The ‘positive vacay culture’. And if it still doesn’t work and people have extra leaves, instill the value of give and take – Ask them if they would like to donate their extra leaves to someone else, perhaps someone who had to use up their own leaves due to an illness or a personal issue. For every problem, the most arbitrary solutions seem the easiest – Conduct more engagement activities, hand out a few perks, extend perfunctory gestures of appreciation that you and the recipient will both forget the next day. But there is more to it because engagement is human and concerns humans. People are complex but not impossible. Let the approach be holistic, taking all complexities into consideration, and treating people as individuals, not as a homogeneous “workforce”.
Take the first step. Make an effort to reach out. It may sound like tremendous pressure on you, but once you start the dialogue, the onus will fall upon everyone else as well, turning a vicious circle into a circle of healing.