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Keeping Staff Happy: I Do Like Mondays?

HappyA travel survey conducted by tour operator Thomas Cook and the ABTA (the Association of British Travel Agents), listed a number of outrageous complaints vacationers had made to their travel agents.  Here’s a sample…

On one level, complaints like this are laughable. But, closer to home, managers often deal with silly requests from staff. So, how do you make the call that a request for support is legitimate and you are going to do something about it? Equally important, how do you determine if expectations for support are B/S and you are going to ignore this?

60th Birthday:
I have a friend, Martin Sheehan (not the actor) who recently celebrated his 60th. Prior to the big day, his wife Mary asked him what he wanted to mark the occasion. When he told her, she replied: “What sort of a flashlight fetish have you got? You must have bought 100 of those stupid things since we got married and none of them work”.

As Martin grew up in Ballyfermot, I can fully subscribe to his need to have a working ‘flashlamp’ – in case of an electrical emergency.  At work sometimes requests for things seem equally bizarre. The trick (if we can call it a trick) is to understand the request from the perspective of the person making it.

Professor McCarthy:
In his seminal book ‘The Decade of Upheaval’, the late Professor Charles McCarthy wrote that the central problem in industrial relations was not that executives were faceless, but that the people in charge considered you (the workers) as being faceless. So, while it may not be a central part of the executive role to keep staff happy (everyone owns their own happiness), it is part of the executive role to understand the perspective of staff. Demonstrating this understanding, even if you cannot or decide not to do anything about the issues raised, has the effect of letting people know they have been heard. This simple practice of ‘being heard’ is itself, therapeutic and can help to resolve an issue.

Coast Guard:
Admiral Thad Allen is the guy who coordinated the response to the US Gulf Coast oil disaster in 2007. He said that the central role for leaders is to: “make yourself continually available and make communication continuous”. By the nature of the work they do, the Coast Guard are responding to events that have an uncertain ending and unknown timing. During the Gulf Crisis, he modelled an approach where the leader makes himself highly accessible. His second piece of advice was not to avoid details or technical elements that staff bring forward. His belief: It’s important for a leader to understand the detailed, technical situation which staff face, captured in the saying “Don’t dumb down the complexity”.

Next Time:
The next time a member of staff says to you: “I don’t feel that I am being developed in this job” or “I’m not really enjoying this work” you have two options. You can see this as an interruption to your busy day. Alternatively, you can see it as an opportunity to understand the world from the perspective of staff and use the opportunity to communicate your own philosophy.

Don’t  start from the automatic assumption that it’s your job to keep staff happy. But, neither is it your job to ignore issues which staff raise. The role for executives is to search for the sweet spot which lies somewhere between these extremes.