How to handle well-adjusted (and not-so-well-adjusted) employees

Is this a well-adjusted dog? She looks a little defiant here, not typical for her, but possible. Employees can also display a range of misleading looks (including silence). The best thing a manager can do is engage the employee in conversation, which creates a much more accurate understanding of any situation. Making assumptions based on what you see or hear (or don’t see or don’t hear) is a bad plan.

A friend and Graceful Leadership blog reader emailed me after the last post and said that she was glad to hear that the recent chiropractic visit helped Grace and that she hoped Grace continued to be “well-adjusted.”

Of course, I loved that she cared about Grace. And at the same time, it struck my funny bone because the words “well-adjusted” and Grace don’t normally appear in the same sentence. As we all know, my adorable little pooch is really quite neurotic.

Nevertheless, the play on words got me thinking.

When you think of a well-adjusted person, you think of a good employee, right? I do. I think of someone “normal.” Someone who brings a rationale, cooperative approach to the workplace. Someone I’d like to work with because they don’t introduce their baggage. It’s the superstar, the top performer that gets results.

But it’s important to keep in mind that just because they make it look easy, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their challenges.

The tendency of managers is to forget that these low-maintenance employees do require care and attention. Since the well-adjusted types go about their business quietly, managers can find themselves forgetting to carry out their fundamental management activities, like saying thank you or simply asking how things are going.

We should not take these easy-to-work-with employees for granted. They likely have some challenges or roadblocks that you can (and should) help with, even if they aren’t complaining about it.

Effective managers understand that no matter how well-adjusted a person is, he still needs support. Support comes in many forms. But the best way is an action step that every manager can do. There is no excuse that I can think of that would let you off the hook for this (drum-roll, please)….

How do you handle well-adjusted (and not-so-well-adjusted) employees?

Talk to them! It’s really that simple.

This solution may seem too simple, too obvious. But you and I both know that there are many, many, far too many, workplaces conversations that never happen. Similar to formal performance evaluations, these efforts take a back seat to more pressing daily tasks.

The other day, I conducted an exit interview for a small company that does not have a dedicated human resources department. When I talked to the employee to learn about his experiences and what prompted his resignation, he said his primary reason for leaving was because he wasn’t making enough money. I’m sure there was some truth to that, but it’s not the whole truth. Money is never a long-term motivator. Compensation needs to be fair, but when people have a laundry list of other issues, the money becomes the easy scapegoat, but isn’t really the root cause.

The real problem was that the employee and manager had never discussed this — along with many other important topics. Having the conversation doesn’t mean the problem will be solved to everyone’s satisfaction. In this case, the employee had the perception that the organization could not financially afford a raise. But when the two parties have had no discussion, there is no way to build awareness and understanding of the decision.

As managers, we have to pursue the dialogue. It’s not enough to assume that because the topic hasn’t been raised, that the employee is satisfied. Trust is built through open discussion, whether you can accommodate the request or not.

I work hard to find ways that Grace can handle life even though she is not well-adjusted. I certainly don’t always succeed. But I hope that she knows that I’m trying. And that’s how your employees should feel about you, too.

What stories can you share that illustrate the support of your employees? Or perhaps a situation that you’ve witnessed around a lack of support? Leave a comment and help us all learn through your experiences.

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  1. Leslie Fish on October 26, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I recently sat in on a webinar on how to become a better admin support to my manager. The essence of the presentation was the same: talk to one another. The presenter offered that these conversations might be easier if held outside of the normal office routine and suggested inviting the boss to lunch or walking to or from the parking lot together. Unconsciously, I’ve been doing this latter. I usually park in the same spot everyday, and one of my bosses parks two spots down the row. We’ve frequently walked in together and discussed the upcoming day in a less formal manner. He learns when I am being called upon by other departments and I learn when he has important meetings to prep for, as an example. I also learn when his kids might need his attention druing the day, etc. These informal chats have given us a much better working relationship.

    • Robin on October 26, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Leslie, thanks for sharing this wonderful way in which you have found to enhance a working relationship. I especially like the fact that it doesn’t even take any extra time out of your day (even though time to talk is always time well-spent!!!). And when two people have a pattern of regular conversations on non-controversial issues, it’s so much easier to bring up a subject that is more difficult. Good job to you — I can tell that you have a commitment to learn and do great work, illustrated by your participation in programs like the webinar you mentioned. I know your colleagues are lucky to you as a well-adjusted employee!

  2. LeeAnn on October 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Robin – I have spent some time catching up on you and Grace today. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that Grace has you. I love seeing other dog parents who treat their wonderful cohabitants with such kindness and respect. I can feel your love for Grace and I can see hers for you in the pictures. I also have enjoyed the management tips – and need them desperately. As you know, I am going into a new venture and will be managing different people, in a different setting. I am beginning to think of how challenging that will be. In one of your last few posts, you raised the question of whether you might let Grace make the decision too often. I don’t believe that is the case at all. I think it is you listening to her and understanding and appreciating the reasons for the request. Isn’t that what we want to do for everyone? I have never employed the “alpha” philosophy – with anyone, pets or human. I don’t believe in it – and I love that you don’t seem to either. So fun to catch up with you both – and glad that Grace is back on the stairs!

  3. Robin Eichert on October 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Hi LeeAnn! So great to see you here and I appreciate your feedback so much. Someone once told me that she felt I was all about building consensus, and so you’re right about how I feel about the ‘alpha’ thing — I don’t feel it is an effective way to manage — or have a strong relationship of any kind. It took me a while to realize that with animals, though, and one of the many things I have admired about you because you have known that forever. Grace has been a wonderful teacher for me. I love the way you remarked about it, too, in that it’s about listening to her and understanding the reasons for the request. That’s so powerful when we can truly do that all the time — no matter who is doing the asking. Thank you again and again and again for being here! I know you will manage your new employees well, in fact, I know it will be an equal partnership as you work together.

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