When dealing with messy employee issues, don’t let time stand still


This picture was taken less than two short weeks ago, but as I begin to enjoy warmer spring days, the thought of snow on the ground seems months ago. It’s easy to lose perspective on time when you are in the midst of something undesirable, but stepping back to see the bigger picture allows you to operate with greater calm and presence of mind.

When you are in the throes of a messy employee issue, it can consume every moment. Even when you aren’t actively dealing with it, you are thinking about it. You just want it to end, but it feels like it will last forever. Time stands still, frozen in place, you’re sinking in quicksand with no way out.

What should you do? Stop the madness by ensuring you are putting the situation in the right perspective. Time will move and you are in control of how much constructive (or negative) energy you are spending on it. When you create structure around the resolution, everyone involved can move forward.

I always advocate that people issues are dealt with quickly; it does not help the situation to avoid dealing with any problem. However, it is more important to put the situation into perspective before you take any action to make sure that action is appropriate.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and panicked, that’s precisely when you need to stop and take a deep breath and get your bearings, especially true if you’re in a culture where there is a lot of pressure to take immediate action.

When we get caught up in the moment’s frenzy, it’s easy to make a mountain out of molehill (often perpetuated by our desire to solve the problem and/or to help others). Instead, stop. Reflect on the problem and its overall relevance to the big picture. Here are some questions to ponder and actions to take as you evaluate the situation:

  • What is the long-term impact of the dispute? Often small issues take on too much importance (and mental energy!), be sure you let those little ones go.
  • Does this affect one person, a team, or the overall company objectives? Never discount how important a situation to a particular person, but recognize that they may not have the entirety of the situation in view. You, as the manager, should.
  • Are you being pressured to move forward with action that you feel is inappropriate? Make sure you explain your rationale if it doesn’t align with others. Justifying your stance allows you to demonstrate that it’s not just some harebrained posture you took on a whim. Make it valid — for you and others.
  • Remember some people have a tendency to blow things out of proportion while others downplay something that is serious. You need to decide where that line is for the situation in front of you.

Don’t get frozen because of your inability to see the forest for the trees. Remember that the snow will melt in due time and your ability to acknowledge and communicate that to your team is paramount to everyone’s success.

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