When you have no control, yet still have to perform

Oliver has been patient in dealing with this situation out of his control. He has also figured out some workarounds. Clever employees will do the same!

Oliver has been forced to deal with a situation outside of his control. The stare gives away his sense of irritation with the whole collar thing, but he’s been a trooper. (A model for good employee behavior in my mind.) He has also figured out some workarounds, much to my chagrin. Clever employees will do the same!

There are times in the workplace when you have no control over a situation, yet you are still required to perform despite challenges imposed on you. This holds true for managers and employees (though employees often forget that their managers may also have constraints).

I heard a woman the other day talk about a past employment situation and this was her description: “They [my employers] tied my hands behind my back, shackled my ankles, and then asked me to run a marathon.” Yikes. Hard to see how that would be a good idea. Yet it happens. Decisions are made that aren’t in everyone’s best interests and on occasion, the individual is left to “just deal with it.”

Of course, I encourage everyone to speak up and share their own perspective, offering insight in an appropriate manner and at the optimal time. But even when an employee (or manager) has done all they can do to convey concerns or objections, things may go down a different path than you think it should.

Oliver can relate. Last Friday, the poor little guy had emergency surgery to repair a major urinary tract issue that arose on Thursday. Because some of his body parts were reconfigured (I’ll spare you the gory details), it’s critical that the surgical area remain undisturbed, necessitating the use of the blue collar you see. This goes completely against his natural tendency to groom himself. Tell a cat to wear a noisy, awkward “cone,” that restricts his ability to move, limits his freedom, and makes it impossible to clean himself, and you have the equivalent of the woman who was sent to run a marathon with major constraints. Frustration!

So Oliver has approached this in two ways — and listen up — because I bet you can imagine this happening in your office. First, he got quiet. The pain meds could have helped that a bit, but even so, he’s actually been much more patient than I would have expected. There are times when he sits idle and awake, for literally hours, doing nothing. No meows, no pacing, no attempts to escape the collar. I am grateful for those times, because it makes my life easier. In those moments, I don’t have to worry that he’s licking where he’s not supposed to be. But I wonder if he’s in such agony that he has become numb. I don’t know what is going through his mind. Maybe he’s cool about the whole thing and is ok just hanging out. Or is he tricking me (and maybe even himself) into a sense of acceptance, for something he knows is not natural and normal?

The corresponding management lesson is not to assume that quiet employees are happy ones. They might be; it’s quite possible that a person has found peace with a situation or decided to endure the craziness they feel. Or it might be that are quietly making plans of their own….

Here’s what happened after four days of his ‘quiet endurance.’ Now feeling quite satisfied that Oliver is the poster child for Collar Compliance, I walked into the house after running a short errand, only gone 30 minutes. To my horror, I found Oliver hard at work to clean up the surgical area, not at all in compliance with vet’s orders. I was a bit panicked: if he had disrupted the vet’s careful stitchery, it could be very damaging to his recovery. (Thankfully, after another run to the vet’s office, she confirmed everything was still where it was supposed to be. Whew.)

But he had done what many clever employees and managers achieve: a workaround. When faced with something that is contrary to their preferred state, a person almost always reverts back to a past behavior or gets creative to do what they crave most.

What we all need to remember is that change is hard, especially when we don’t understand it (like Oliver) or don’t agree with it. Here’s the bottom line:

  • Managers should do all they can to convey decisions and their rationale, and whenever possible, get buy-in. If you don’t, recognize the great potential for adverse consequences (such as the new ‘thing’ doesn’t get done or low morale becomes the norm).
  • Employees need to determine their own tipping point. Ask yourself: “Can I live with ‘it’ even if I don’t like ‘it’? If yes, great, move forward, giving ‘it’ all you’ve got. Valued employees work through challenges instead of shutting down because of them. But if you can’t live with “it,” you should be doing something about it, recognizing where you fit (or don’t) to the overall plan.

These steps aren’t always as easy as they sound, unfortunately. But when you can talk openly with your manager and peers about things that are bothering you, lots of the problems will go away.

Now if I can figure out how to tell Oliver he has one more week of wearing that collar.

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