This DATIS article, “Issues Managers Avoid (And Probably Shouldn’t)”, was written by guest author Sebastion Williams.
I sat down with an associate for monthly clinical supervision, probably the last as she had recently accepted a promotional opportunity in a different department. We went over her caseload, the plans for transition and any supports she would need. Finally, I asked her, as I do all my associates who resign, why she sought to leave – is it the money, the challenge, the team or the manager. She replied that the increased salary helps, always seeks new challenges, will miss the cohesiveness of her team and was very pleased with her manager. Being the clinician that I am, I noticed that she looked away for a brief second when I pressed her.
“Aha, it really is me, I suck as a manager and those who tell me otherwise want good reviews, right?”
“No, I think you are a great manager, I just wished that you had been more engaging on a personal level.”
“Engaging like the kind that draws the attention of HR?”
“No, like when you were showing pictures of your grandson, I would’ve like to have seen them too.”
I had incorrectly assumed that she had only been on my team for less than a year, she would not be interested in such things and shared with associates that I have worked with for much longer and have more of a shared experience. We spent another half-hour “catching up” and she closed with thanking me and I told her that she should risk it and ask to be included in her work associates’ disclosures because it fosters understanding and supporting each other.
As managers, we are drilled on policies and procedures around cultural sensitivity, nondiscrimination and the like. But little is said about how these core influences affect our commitment, engagement, tolerance and productivity in the work we perform.
If given a choice between spending time with our families or going to work, most of us would choose the former. I am clear about my associates’ sense of priority as it relates to their work life and the optimal maintenance of both. And, even though most HR policies are well-defined around PTO and sick time, I have never confronted an associate with the choice of attending to a personal matter at risk of disciplinary action. As long as we are, to steal a phrase, “fair and equitable,” with our treatment of associates and flexible in managing business needs, we should be able to absorb the occasional personal crises that fall outside of established protocols. It is an illusory choice to demand that associates choose between work and family which inevitably leads to mutual dissatisfaction and an eventual separation.
I once had an uncomfortable supervision with my director about a misguided email I drafted. I had been advocating for a nurse case manager following up on a member’s access to dentures and entered in the subject line “member tires of pureed prime rib.” He was told by another director that my attempt at humor was insensitive and not appreciated. What he told me is to continue to advocate in the manner I saw fit but with awareness of my audience. I thanked him and asked him if the offended director had a resolution to the real issue?
Humor is a narrow ledge between the banal and the tasteless. I realize that I use humor to manage social awkwardness and difficult circumstances. I also have used it to defuse crisis situations, during interviews and public speaking. I try not to force it but find it necessary to use humor when dealing with dilemmas in time and resource management. The work environment should, if at all possible, retain some element of joy, mirth and frivolity. Who would want to spend most of their waking days without smiling or laughing once in a while? Research supports the therapeutic benefits of fun and laughter that is often ignored in the business environment in favor of the professional and rational.
Many times associates have come to me for supervisory guidance but segue into expressing doubt, anxiety and stress about situations outside of the work environment. I ask them from where they draw their strength and, eventually leads to a discussion about their values, spirituality and faith. We discuss passion and the need to find purpose for what we do and how we do it. I believe that managers incur no risk in reminding associates to rely on their personal source of strength and not to focus on job stability, company loyalty or team cohesion as those things are transient and fleeting. I remind myself with every new challenge that I am seeking opportunities to support a personal mission while supporting my family.
Love is usually reserved for our families and closest friends. But, in the spirit of unconditional positive regard, I love each and all of my associates, past and present. It is important to acknowledge that, no matter how associates struggle with job duties or team interactions, they are worthy or our best effort and unconditional supports, even if it is to help them determine that their current job is not a good fit for them. And no, I have not skipped around the office tossing rose petals and telling everyone how much I love them. We demonstrate our love through honesty and transparency and permit our actions to demonstrate that love more effectively than words or promises.
And the maturity to do so without incurring the wrath of HR.
When not evaluating off-the-shelf card, board and video games for their educational or therapeutic value, Sebastion Williams can be found providing clinical and administrative supports to associates in managed care.