Enforcing a rule that someone doesn’t agree with or like can be difficult, especially if you are anticipating resistance. You dread having to deal with those cranky comments and grumblings from staff and so it’s tempting to dodge it all together. When that happens, you’re letting your short-term interests (avoiding the conflict and trying to make everyone happy) get in the way of the larger objective. And that doesn’t help anyone involved.
Far too often I see managers and employees fall into a rut of working together, where the individual is allowed to continue in bad habits and not held to the standard that is needed.
Our two orange cats, Oliver and Dodger, have never been outside. Instead we ask them to stay indoors, safe from coyotes, hawks, and other wildlife that would enjoy them as a snack. Generally, the cats don’t seem overly unhappy about it, though they sometimes shoot me a glaring look of discontent, as if to send a message about their prison status. Some days, I get very tempted to leave the door cracked just enough to see if they would find their way out to explore. No harm done, right? Wouldn’t it be fair to let them enjoy the feel of grass under their pads and the warmth of sun directly on their backs? Then reality hits, and I know one thing will lead to another, with longer outings, wandering further from home, thus introducing risks that, for now, aren’t part of our plan to keep them alive. It’s a trade-off, for sure, because it’s possible they would be fine out there. Some days I waver on my feelings about the right thing to do, but keeping our big-picture decision in mind helps me make that in-the-moment choice (not leave the door “accidentally” ajar).
In our workplaces, we face these dilemmas. What is good for one person in the moment may not be in his best interests for the long haul. Holding true to organizational needs, while taking into consideration the employee as much as possible, is the key. Whenever possible, do whatever you can to support the employee in activities and structure that is a fit to his needs. That’s when the highest level of productivity and satisfaction occur. But when we can’t, acknowledge the rationale and communicate those reasons to the individual.
Employees recognize that trade-offs sometimes need to be made. They will respect you — and your decision — when you state your position with clear and reasonable justification, along with credible assurance that you understand and acknowledge the employee’s needs, too.