Employees can go through phases

Grace has always loved our walks in most any kind of weather, but there was a time that she resisted going down our street because of loud noises. That phase has (thankfully) past and she's now eager to go! Giving her a little time and space to work through that obstacle got her back on track.
Grace has always loved our walks in most any kind of weather, but there was a time that she resisted going down our street because of loud noises from nearby target shooting. That phase has (thankfully) past and she’s now eager to go! Giving her time and space to work through that obstacle got her back on track.

Yesterday, around 2:30 p.m. as if on cue, Grace walked into my office and whined. It’s her [not so] subtle way of saying she’s ready for our walk. It’s a new routine these days — but also one that is familiar to us from the past.

For years, Grace and I have ventured down the road we live on for a walk. We have other favorite spots, but during the week, this is convenient and accessible. We’d usually go mid-afternoon, offering a welcome change of pace to the day for both of us.

Yet there was a time in the summer of 2012 when Grace would not go for our walk, no matter how much coaxing I did. She had gotten frightened by the loud noises from target shooting by a neighbor and the random and deafening noises created panic for her. The days turned into weeks, and then months, where she would not go down the familiar path.

I stopped asking her to go that way, as much as I wanted to pull her along, pleading with her to see that all would be fine. In her mind, it was not fine and no words could change that for her. Instead, we’d get in the car and drive to a lovely spot nearby that didn’t scare her, or we’d just poke around in the yard if time was limited. The walks had changed and honestly, I thought she would never want to go down the road again.

Time seems to have healed her worry. We haven’t heard the target shooting for a long time and Grace found a way to move past her fear. Now she is eager to venture down the road and doesn’t hesitate to let me know she’s ready. It’s as though we never stopped this routine.

As we were walking yesterday, it dawned on me, that over the last several days she’s been asking to go, as if she had never gone through a phase of resisting. It made me realize that all of us can be prone to cycles or routines — good and bad — but we often find our way back to something familiar and comfortable.

In the workplace, employees can go through phases, too.  It’s important that we look at the overall trend of performance and gauge the frequency and severity of any dips. Sure, we have expectations for performance that must be met. No doubt about that. I’m talking about situations where we know that a baseline exists that tells us the employee is the right fit for the job. But even when an employee has a solid track record, it can be easy to start to wonder about a person when they hit a big snag. Managers can start to project the issue into a long-range problem rather than working through it. Instead of jumping to conclusions, it’s best to figure out the cause and allow the employee some latitude in turning the situation around.

Solving the issue might be as simple as helping the employee recharge her batteries after an intensive project has ended. Or it could be as significant as the person re-thinking a career path. Any number of possibilities exist.

Even in rare cases where it doesn’t work out, the way you work through this makes a difference. There are important intangibles that result from taking the time and effort to work through a rut. Of course, keeping a key and valued employee is most notable. But other employees in the organization will see how this was handled and this feeds a culture of loyalty and respect. I can think of no greater rewards.

Managers who support their employees, through thick and thin will receive the best performance in the long haul. Have you worked for a manager that gave you leeway to work through a tough time? What impact did that have on you and your work? Leave a comment so others can learn from your experience.

Talking a walk down the road isn’t always as easy as it seems. When you can help others work through a stressful situation, you become more than simply a walking partner.

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