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My staff is overworked. Now I need them to do more

Dear Governess:

I just left a management meeting where we were told to push people in order to get more out of them. My staff is already overstretched, so I feel caught between their needs (to have a life) and my own job. Any suggestions? – Tyler M., Toronto

Dear Tyler:

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You could set up waterboarding in the copier room–"you will try harder"–but there are legalities. Besides, you sound like a nice guy, so please don't turn into a jerk even if you feel pressured to be one. While the 2011 study "Do Nice Guys–and Gals–Really Finish Last?" suggests disagreeable people are perceived to be better leaders (not to mention, they earn more money), trying to squeeze more work out of people doesn't necessarily work. Even one of the study's co-authors, Charlice Hurst, assistant professor of organizational business at Western University, says "being mean certainly isn't associated with positive outcomes for performance or the well-being of employees. It can be negative for engagement as well as turnover and retention."

So what can you do? Brainstorm with your staff to see if you can come up with time-saving solutions. Recognize and reward hard work. Blow off steam together with the occasional lunch out–at your expense. You could also ask upper management for support. "Good companies are paying a lot of money to train their leaders to be more human, to coach and mentor people to try to get results in positive ways," says Hurst.

As for that crock called work-life balance (almost two-thirds of Canadians work over 45 hours weekly, according to a 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving), you can try to relieve some stress by being flexible about when and where your employees slave. At least they'll be able to read their kids bedtime stories between e-mails on their mobile.

Dear Governess:

We keep the office supply of ground coffee in the freezer. I made a pot one day and came back to find a very aggressive note addressed to the "low-down thief" who used someone's specialty blend that they "SPECIFICALLY" bought for their own personal use. I had no idea it was theirs. Should I apologize in person, or by note? – Sophie G., Ottawa

Dear Sophie:

Face to face. That way, the person receiving the apology can see if the penitent is sincere–something that is not discernible if it's delivered by e-mail, instant message, tweet or Post-it. Phoning it in also smacks of avoidance. If you share the same office kitchen, you're close enough to walk to their desk.

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Equally important is what not to do. Don't be sarcastic, snide or reference Niles of Frasier fame. Keep your own feelings out of it. You don't need to grovel, but try to be understanding–maybe this person was forced to drink a generic grocery blend in their past. Just say something like, "I'm the one who messed up by brewing your coffee. Sorry. I didn't realize it wasn't intended for the office. I'd be happy to buy you a pound to make it up."

Now it's up to the recipient to drop the self-righteous act and graciously take the higher ground(s). Maybe even brew a fresh pot to share.

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