As part of our ongoing effort to expose our readers to different voices in leadership here is a guest posting from Deni Hoehne, SPHR, GPHR. Deni has 17 years of HR experience. She currently works as the Sr. HR Director for Talent Development for a global engineering and construction firm.
Congratulations. You have distinguished yourself with excellent performance, proven integrity, and steadfast determination, and been rewarded with a progressive career into management and leadership. There’s one thing you may be forgetting: what it’s like to be in the beginning of your career, when you had less authority and less experience. When an issue or problem emerges from the workforce and reaches your level, you may have lost some of your empathy for how the employee(s) involved really feels, and your actions could result in a severe negative impact to that employee’s engagement in your organization.
You didn’t intentionally lose your empathy for your coworkers as you climbed the ladder, but you have evolved into such a different person due to your experience in the workplace that it can be hard to remember what it was like to be in their shoes. Your work life is marked by decision-making, direction-setting, strategic planning and meetings with clients and other executives. You have the ability to influence your work world and the experience to know how to adapt to challenging circumstances.
That’s not necessarily the work world that your staff lives in. Most employees have less influence and less ability to deal with difficult situations (especially with other coworkers). When they have an issue, they typically try to ignore it and hope it goes away (it never does). When whatever they do to try to deal with the issue doesn’t work, they talk to coworkers. Coworkers offer suggestions and “I’m on your side” support. They may escalate it to their supervisor, if the supervisor isn’t the one creating the issue. And then they may go to HR. Employees continue suffering with the issue while going through a weeks- or months-long resolution process. By the time the issue is brought to your office, it’s because no one else has the authority or know-how to resolve it.
When the issue arrives at your desk, remember: It’s worse than you think. That employee is intensely unhappy about a chronic issue. When an employee is dissatisfied or distracted, hours of productivity will be lost. Coworker or client relationships may have been damaged. The employee may be looking for another position, putting at risk all your investment in their training and development.
It’s also a big deal to the employee’s supportive coworkers, who are all on the employee’s “side” and watching you carefully to see how you’ll handle it. Will you walk your talk and demonstrate how much you care about your employees? Will you deal with everyone fairly?
So when an employee issue works through the process, and you are asked for an action, remember what it was like to be in your employees’ shoes. Address the issue promptly. Take action to relieve your employees from a highly dissatisfactory situation. Don’t wait until you come back from that business trip, or let it slip off your priority list in favor of another high-level meeting. Demonstrate your integrity by respecting the employee’s perception of the situation and devoting the time that your “most important asset” deserves. Promote your employees’ engagement in your organization by showing that you care about the quality of their work world as much as you care about a strategic plan.