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Sometimes, it's the smallest sources of irritation that cause the greatest rash. I'm talking metaphorically of course, because I'm referring to irritations in the workplace.
I call these piss-off factors (or POFs for short). POFs are when otherwise really smart managers take actions that are short-sighted and stupid, at least when it comes to building and maintaining employee morale. Now, more often than not, the short-sightedness and stupidity isn't intentional; in fact, it's frequently logical. But "logical" isn't always the best approach, particularly when you're dealing with people. POFs are actions or decrees from management that may seem to be only a small annoyance to employees, but left unchecked, expand and spread, until they become sources of great frustration.
A POF is the memo telling employees that they are no longer permitted to park in the lot next to the warehouse; they must now park in the lot across the street. No big deal – it's just an extra 300 yards, right? Wrong! Because this seemingly-small edict wasn't addressed and explained, it gets blown out of proportion into something huge.
A POF is when a supervisor questions an employee about several after-hours office food deliveries when the team has been working overtime for the last five days to meet a deadline. Sure, the total amount for food may seem excessive at first glance, but is it really worth the cross-examination, particularly given the herculean effort undertaken to get things done within a limited time?
A POF is when a department manager holds a "fun" afternoon event at a local eatery to thank employees for a job well done, but does not invite the temporary and contract staff who work alongside the regular employees. The reason: once you start inviting people who are not full-time employees of the department, where do you draw the line? As one manager told me: "It's a slippery slope, and we can't go there; far better to just limit it to the regular employees. Otherwise, costs will spiral out of control." Really? Is the money you saved worth the loss in team spirit?
In each of these examples, the actions taken were short-sighted and stupid. Not deliberately, because they were driven by logic. But in the end, the final outcome was that they were irritating and annoying to employees, destroying morale and eventually performance and productivity. They were piss-off factors!
So what does this mean to someone in a leadership role? Do you now have to tip-toe around difficult messages just so you don't upset your employees? No, of course not. When all is said and done, avoiding POFs is actually strategic. It's evaluating both the benefits and the disadvantages of a certain course of action, and then proceeding only if the positives outweigh the negatives. On balance, it's something that leaders should be doing anyway, each day, in every aspect of their scope of responsibility. So avoid POFs by keeping these four things in mind.
1. Ask yourself – does it really matter?
Yes, it may aggravate you to no end to see your staff congregating around the water cooler catching up on the latest gossip, but does it really affect whatever it is you deliver or produce? Has your team's productivity gone down? Is it something that clients are noticing and commenting about? Or is it just exasperating to you because they should be working all the time? Be honest with yourself; pick your battles. If it's not influencing your team's output, then consider it employee stress relief, and move on.
2. Think "big picture."
Think strategically. Sure, ordering in lunch for the team means a short-term cost (and it may even be contrary to company policy), but weigh it against the value gained from your staff working straight through without interruption. Sometimes, temporary pain may be well worth the long-term gain.
3. Exercise maximum flexibility.
If you work for the government or a large company, you likely have "rules and policies" that guide your actions. But remember that not every rule is black or white. One of your most powerful assets as a leader is your ability to exercise judgment. Which means that many rules have shades of grey. So use that flexibility to its best advantage – make employee-friendly decisions while still operating within the range of grey.
4. Tell people why.
If there is a recent command from above that is likely to upset your staff, then take the time to tell them why. Explain the reasoning behind the new overtime rules. And if you don't know why, then find out. Taking the time to clarify the rationale won't necessarily take away the bite, but it will soothe the sting.
Piss-off factors are avoidable. With some deliberate and intentional thought, smart managers don't have to do stupid things.
Merge Gupta-Sunderji (@mergespeaks) is a speaker and author who turns managers into leaders, drawing upon her more than 17 years of first-hand experience as a leader in corporate Canada. www.TurningManagersIntoLeaders.com.