Calling in Sick

Cindy was recently promoted to department manager and today was the final push on a huge project for her team.  Though her department only had 5 employees, she was looking forward to finalizing this project and showing the VP what she and her team could do.  Shortly after getting into the office she received a text message from Amy notifying Cindy that she couldn’t make it into the office today due to a cold.  Cindy’s heart sank, she was relying on Amy to help finish up this major project.

As a manager, have you come across this situation?  What have you done when a critical employee calls in sick right when you need them the most?  For many managers, a tangle of emotions and scenarios start playing in your head.  Emotions from feeling betrayed and angry to scenarios where you start believing your employee is a slacker and faking sick.

Cindy finished the project but only by working late into the night.  The next day Amy came into the office all bright and cheerful with no signs of being sick.  Cindy still frustrated at Amy for missing an important day at the office ignored Amy all morning.  After lunch Amy poked her head into Cindy’s office to check in, Cindy just glared at her and angrily stated, “How could you not be here yesterday when I needed you the most?”

Almost every day managers have to step up and take the high road.  We have to make sure we are not making assumptions or taking things personally.  As in the case of Cindy, she took Amy’s absence very personally and started thinking of Amy as a troubled employee.  You can be sure that next time Amy calls in sick, Cindy is going to be even more upset.

If you are dealing with an employee calling in sick on an important day or has a history of calling in sick, take a step back and try to look at it from a rational point of view.  Before addressing a potential absent employee problem, ensure you have the complete picture.  Review how much unscheduled time off they have taken over the last few months; is it really out of the ordinary or is your perception warped by your feelings?  With flu and cold season coming, you also have to consider cutting down on the spread of illness by not allowing sick employees in the office.

Even if you believe an employee is abusing the sick leave policy, seek advice prior to taking any action (including talking with the employee).  When dealing with an employee taking a lot of sick leave, take care you do not to violate any legal rights the employee has, and ensure you are viewing the situation objectively.

Political Banter in the Workplace

Fred walks into work in the morning all hyped up over last night’s political debate. Exasperated, he doesn’t understand how anyone could ever support the other candidate when it’s obvious they are a potential criminal, liar, inexperienced and offensive to all. Despite his feelings, he vows to avoid any political talk in the workplace recognizing the time waste and conflict it can bring.

As Fred passes the break room, Sam pops his head out and asks Fred what he thinks of the debate last night. Fred mumbles a non-committal reply and attempts to move on. However, Sam takes his non-committal reply as a sign that Fred is on the fence about the candidates and proceeds starts into a barrage about how horrible one of the candidates is. Unfortunately, this is the candidate that Fred believes is the best choice for President

If you were Fred, how would you handle this?

This political season has been especially controversial and in many ways, has divided traditionally strong groups. Unfortunately, this political environment and difference of opinions has spilled over into the workplace, creating distractions and hurt feelings. These distractions are bound to effect productivity.

As managers and Human Resource professionals, how do you manage political talk in the workplace? Let’s step in as Fred and Sam’s manager and you are walking by the conversation between Fred and Sam. Your options at this point is to move on, join in the conversation, or break up their conversation. Of course, you know the answer, gently break up the conversation and send them back to work.

While a healthy debate about politics is necessary to work through our own beliefs and come up with new concepts for the betterment of all, in the workplace they can lead to a major distraction from work. This distraction can be anything from employees no longer talking to each other to taking time away from actual production.

Whether you are an executive, manager, HR professional, or an employee; you have the ability to be a leader in your workplace. Sometimes that means you either avoid political conversations or defer the conversation to a better time and place (e.g. lunch). This can be difficult when you feel that your strongly held political beliefs are under attack. A true leader should try to encourage others in a positive and productive manner, while remaining genuine. This doesn’t mean you need to dismiss or lie about your beliefs, but rather evading what you know can be unproductive conversation for the workplace.

Individuals in authority (e.g. executives, managers, HR) need to demonstrate leadership by not participating in extreme political talk, ensuring that any political talk in the workplace is not damaging relationships, and that workplace productivity continues.

How have do you handle yourself or your employees when it comes to political talk? Need help? We are here to assist you in managing conflict, even the political kind.

Related blog post from November 2014: Politics of Politics in the Workplace

Socializing Employees

Are your employees focused on their tasks or are they socializing? It’s Monday morning and you are trying to get back into the work groove. With a major contract due soon, you are distracted by laughter coming from around the corner.   It’s only 9:30, no one should be on break, so you look around the corner and you see three of your employees chatting about the weekend rather than working on their already late projects. What should you do?

This is a common dilemma for managers. Where do you draw the line between allowing socializing and ensuring work is done? A certain amount of socialization in the workplace is expected, and even necessary, among employees, but how much is too much. As a manager you need remember that while you don’t have to always be hard-nosed about situations, you are also not your employee’s friend. Before reacting and sending them back to work, consider all of the information you have.

  • How Long have your employees been socializing (5, 10, 30 minutes)?
  • Will it hurt the workload or timeline if they talk for a few minutes?
  • Is there a critical issue that has to be fixed right now?
  • Are other employee’s being sucked in by one known socializing employee?
  • Is this a common occurrence (several times a day, once a week, etc.)?

Realizing that these employees have been chatting about their weekend for twenty minutes, you pull yourself away from your work to go speak to the employees. Once the employees see you coming they start to scatter back to their work as if you are carrying an ax. Obviously the employees have caught on they have socialized a bit too much. At this point, I would recommend gently reminding the employees about keeping socializing to a minimum and longer conversations should take place at a more appropriate time and location. While talking to them, check in on their work progress and verify they are on track and have all the resources they need.

If you find that one or more employees is consistently avoiding actual work through socialization, consider disciplinary measures. For example, start with a causal conversation about the effects the disruptions have on the company and his/her performance. If you have already gone down that route with little to no effect, don’t be afraid to move on to formal measures (e.g. documented Verbal Warning).

Finally, as a manager make sure that you are demonstrating leadership by not joining in or starting long conversations.

Let Me Distract You

Take a moment and think about your day. How often where you interrupted by something or someone? One statistic says that 28% of your workday is dealing with unnecessary distractions (2009, Basex). Even as I write this blog post I am finding myself distracted by my cell phone, email, and even thoughts about my other projects (both personal and professional).

And I am back from my five-minute jaunt into email. Is this all too familiar for you? Some days it is amazing that we get anything done. I found it necessary to create some simple tricks to help me focus when working on a project.

  • Email: Turn off your email program. Yes, you heard me right. Schedule your time to check email. If you are very busy, use your out of office setting that notifies people to call you if it is an emergency otherwise you will check email at X time.
  • Phone: This one may be even harder than email. Turn your cell phone off or at the very least silent and set your office phone to do not disturb.
  • Social/work visits: Set a busy time on your corporate calendar and if you have a door to your office, close it. If you don’t have a door, try posting a sign on your cube letting those drop-in coworkers know that you are unavailable.
  • Music: If you are a music listener like me, find a genre that doesn’t distract. When studying for my Bar exam I chose music that had few words and a steady rhythm. The bonus was that earphones isolated me from the outside world. If music is distracting, put on noise canceling earphones but don’t plug them in (earplugs also work).

Trust me on this, there are very few things that are such an emergency that isolating yourself for two hours to work on a project would be devastating to the company or your work.

What do you do to avoid distractions at work?