How managers can reduce (or create) dangers in the workplace

The snake is so small it's hard to see, so I've added the arrow to help you locate it. The size of the threat doesn't equate to my sense of danger. Managers need to keep that in perspective when leading people.
The snake is so small it’s hard to see, so I’ve added the arrow to help you locate it. The size of the threat doesn’t equal my sense of danger and fear. Managers need to keep that in perspective when they are motivating and leading people. Oliver and I have very different views of being around snakes; he’s having a ball, I’m freaked out.

In workplaces, employees are always aware of dangers that lurk for them. Things like: Will a manager support a strong decision or opinion that I voice? Will the quality of my work be appreciated and valued? Will I have a job tomorrow?

These are not unfounded concerns. Taking a wrong step at the wrong time with the wrong person can result in consequences that you aren’t expecting — or desiring! Those experiences could range from a minor frustration in not being appreciating to a lack of self-worth felt after a horrible exchange between manager and employee.

It makes me think of the baby snakes in our basement. It is ludicrous to think that I’m scared of something so tiny and helpless. And in fact, it’s not so much this little creature that worries me, it’s the idea of finding a whole squirming nest of them, along with their much larger mother. And so it is with our office politics, too, a tiny signal of discontent voiced by a manager, and the employee can start to imagine new and larger stories —  that may or may not be true.

A manager can’t guard against every scenario, and as regular readers will know, I always advocate for open, honest, and direct feedback, no matter what the receiver wants to hear. But it’s important to be thorough in your communication, to make sure nothing is left to an assumption. For example, talk together about a plan to resolve the issue being discussed, and follow it. Involve all the necessary parties and get everyone is in the loop. That way, no rumor mill is initiated.

This week’s historic swim by Diana Nyad is also a very important lesson for employees. No matter how good (or bad) the relationship is between employee and manager, each person is ultimately responsible for their own actions and choices. Diana wasn’t in a workplace situation, but she certainly proved that obstacles which look insurmountable, like shark-infested waters and deadly jellyfish, can be dealt with. (That certainly helps me put my baby snakes in perspective.) An employee may be at the mercy of a bad manager, but they don’t have to agree with or accept that bad behavior. If we rely solely on the opinions of others to drive our own destiny, we will likely miss the boat.  Anyone wanting to learn more about Diana’s journey will find her 2011 TED Talk well worth the time.

I can’t imagine a time when I’ll be comfortable with snakes in our basement. Oliver’s feline hunter instincts are much different from mine. Employees will be different, too. Your job as a manager is to work with everyone on your team, with all their strengths and foibles.

What dangers do you see in the workplace? What dangers do your employees see? Are you reducing them or creating them? Share your stories in the Comments section below. We can all learn more together!

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4 comments

  1. Judy Ringer says:

    Robin – I always enjoy your posts. And this one in particular. I so agree that Diana’s journey has many parallels at work and in life. And yes — no substitute for clear, compassionate communication.

  2. “The size of the threat doesn’t equal my sense of danger and fear.” I love that! Not only is it applicable to the workforce, but to training as well. It reminded me of horses and being scared of a plastic bag blowing … It doesn’t matter how seemingly small something is – fear is fear!

    • Robin says:

      Excellent point about the connection to training, Kas! Fear certainly inhibits our ability to learn, especially for the long-term. Hope you are well!

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