Show support while imposing standards

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Q. My employee, Jane, has family in the military. They’re stationed in war zones. Jane’s performance is slipping—she’s just not herself. What can I do?

A. Don’t assume her lagging performance is all because she’s anxious about her loved ones’ safety. Meet with her privately and say, “Your performance is not up to its usual standards.” After you cite evidence to back up your comment, ask Jane, “What do you think?” If she responds that she’s preoccupied with her family’s safety, show support. Acknowledge the difficulty she faces. Discuss ways to adjust her job duties to relieve her stress or give her more flexibility. At the same time, reinforce the need for her to meet minimal expectations and standards.

Beware: Don’t say, “Oh, don’t worry so much. Everything will be fine.” Your well-meaning stab at reassurance can backfire.

Q. I manage highly paid engineers. I also manage support staff who earn minimum wage. The engineers often discuss their ritzy vacations and home remodeling projects. That makes the others jealous. How can I get these “rich folks” to stop bragging?

A. You can’t control what employees say to each other. But you can control how you treat your support staff. If you lavish them with praise, and incentivize them with bonuses and other prizes, you increase the odds they’ll feel like valued team members rather than underpaid peons. Sure, they may still envy higher-paid colleagues. But your leadership can help them suppress their jealousy and feel better about their roles.

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