Management Articles

5 Simple Ways to Support Job-Seekers Who are In Distress

As dislocated workers flood into One-Stop Centers looking for assistance, staff members are faced with the growing dilemma of how to effectively support them. Although one-on-one assistance is sorely needed, the sheer volume makes it nearly impossible to deliver. Given that fact, how can staff members, who want to help, support their clients, especially those who are in distress?

Even if you only spend a minute or two with a visitor to your One-Stop, there are a number of simple, easy-to-implement techniques that will significantly help ease their distress:

1. Address the client by name. People who have lost their jobs often feel tossed aside and unimportant. The simple act of using their formal name (Mr. Santiago or Ms. Brown) implies a respect that will go a long way toward soothing their bruised egos. If they insist you use their first name, so much the better. It indicates you have already put them more at ease.

2. Set their expectations. Even though much of your job may be routine, it is all new to the job-seeker. Whether you are the receptionist or a case worker, let your clients know (at the very beginning of your interaction) how much time you will spend with them and what you can do. Upsets happen for all of us when we expect X to happen and Y happens instead. Clarifying expectations at the beginning of your interaction takes only a few seconds and will go a long way toward avoiding problems when it is time for you to move on to the next client.

3. Give your full attention to the client you are talking with. As a nation, we are poor listeners. We routinely multi-task, looking at computer screens or paperwork instead of directly at the person we are talking with. If you need to look at your computer screen or consult paperwork, let your client know what you are doing. “Let me look that up on my computer,” or, “Let me look at these guidelines to see what they say.” This shows respect. Also, if a co-worker interrupts you with something that must be dealt with at that moment, say to your client, “Please excuse me for a moment,” before responding.

4. Be sensitive to the situation and use appropriate behavior.
If you are in a restaurant with someone you care about and they tell you they lost their job, you probably would not ignore him or her to tell jokes or gossip with the waitress; that would be insensitive. Likewise, when you are working with clients, it is insensitive to be talking with a co-worker about last night’s American Idol or discussing what you plan to eat for lunch. Non-work-related talk should be restricted to your breaks or when there are no clients waiting (which, alas, these days is never).

5. Avoid expressions that might upset. Although well-meaning, we often say things we hope will be soothing that instead spark negative emotions. Avoid the following expressions:

I know exactly how you feel.

No, you don’t! Clearly you have a job; the client does not.

Don’t feel upset – or- be angry – or – think like that.

No one likes to be told how to feel, think or be.

Things will get better (or other cheerful expressions).

Instead try the reassuring phrase, “We have lots of resources that can help.”

I’m sorry, I can’t do that.

Most people hear “I WON’T do that.” Try instead, “Here is what I CAN do.”

As a workforce professional, your job is to serve the public and the current jobs crisis is an opportunity for you to shine even brighter than usual. Use all of the above tips and you will find that most of your clients will leave feeling better than when they first walked in. As a bonus, you’ll feel better, too!

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The 5 Smartest Questions A Manager Can Ask Employees

Raise them early and often or risk learning the answers in employee exit interviews.

Bob is the accounting manager of a large paper supply company. One of his instructions, as he was leaving for a two-week vacation, was to Cameron, who had been on his staff for less than 6 months. “I’m counting on you to get the month-end management report done while I’m gone.”

Cameron readily agreed. At this point, it would have been a good idea for Bob to use questions to make sure Cameron understood what he meant by “get the report done.” You see, Cameron had been producing that report since he started with the department and his usual methodology was to deliver it to Bob’s office when it was completed. In THIS case, since Bob was going to be gone when management expected to receive it, he thought Cameron would intuitively understand that he also wanted him to distribute the report to the entire management team. You can figure out the rest of the story.

One of your most effective tools as a manager is to communicate as much information as needed for employees to perform as you want. Handle this critical task skillfully, and you can empower your people; fumble it, and you’ll surely hobble them and your organization. A surefire approach is to ask employees questions – provided they’re the right questions.

Here are five perceptive inquiries that invariably foster constructive communication. Try them, and you’ll find employees more willing and able to do what you need them to.

1. What obstacles keep you from doing your best work? A manager’s main task is to clear the way for her people to do their jobs. Asking what hinders them reveals exactly what managerial action to take. You may learn of missing data, inadequate equipment, lack of skills or knowledge, too many interruptions or a “no-win” workload. Whatever deficiencies this question uncovers, it always provides a big payoff by focusing you on tangible steps that will directly and measurably boost employee performance.

2. What is the most effective way for me to manage you? Just as every manager has her own “style” of directing her staff, so every employee has a need to be managed in a particular way. This question enables you to put performance requirements on employees as individuals, significantly increasing the chances that your expectations will be met or exceeded. You will hear a variety of responses:

  • “Tell me precisely what you want, then let me at it.” (The efficient independent.)
  • “I want daily feedback and assurance.” (The teamworker.)
  • “Tell me often how well I’m doing.” (The applause seeker.)
  • “Give me all the data you have and let me know if any is missing.” (The analyst.)

By the way, the enhanced performance you’ll see from using this question underscores the value of following “The Platinum Rule” preached by business relationships expert Tony Alessandra: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

3. When you make a mistake, how do you want me to bring it to your attention?
Employees vary in their tolerance for discussion of their errors, and it’s up to you to identify how to give suggestions for improvement in a way that is absorbed and acted upon. Often-heard responses include:

  • “In writing, with specifics.”
  • “Orally, with specific feedback.” (Some people are shy or embarrassed when they make a mistake. In conversation, you can pause to give them a chance to absorb conclusions before responding.)
  • “Brainstorm with me on how to fix things.” (Other people are eager to understand how and why the error occurred and do their best thinking aloud.)
  • “Let me to figure out by myself how to remedy things.”

Asking for a preferred method of receiving feedback recruits the employee to the view that discussing errors is necessary and a good thing. Plus, it puts you both on the same side of the issue from the start.

When you do something well, how do you want me to bring it to your attention? This is the flip side of Question Three and is effective for the same reasons. In reply, you may hear:

  • “In writing, with specific feedback.”
  • “Orally, with specific feedback.”
  • “Publicly (or privately)”

Some employees want their achievements broadcast, and in their presence. Others would rather die than receive public kudos. It’s important to know which the case is if you want your acknowledgement to be received as encouraging.

5. What could another company (or department) offer you that would cause you to leave? In satisfaction survey after survey, employees put less weight on pay and benefits than on being listened to and recognized for their efforts. Because everyone wants to “fit in” and feel respected on the job, this question can tease out the rewards it will take to make people value their work, their contributions, their teammates – and their connection to you as their supervisor or manager.

Certainly there are many more and other key questions that successful managers ask their employees. But these five are unique in their power to help bring out the best in the people you lead, so that they enjoy their jobs, show loyalty to your organization and work productively.

Compliments Of The Boss

When telling people what you value about them and their work, be specific. Then get ready for greater commitment and performance that you’ll really appreciate!

Your company’s annual picnic has just ended. You’ve mingled cordially with every member of your staff. You’ve conscientiously recognized their tireless work and unflagging dedication. You’ve thanked them all. And you’ll be rewarded, as everyone works harder, better and more happily and willingly than ever.

Scoffing at this scenario? Don’t. The fact is, employees will respond readily to recognition with higher commitment and performance – but your appreciation must be specific, not generic.

To understand why specific appreciation is management’s magic elixir, think about the last time a supermarket cashier handed you change and the line, “Have a nice day!” Did you sense serious recognition that your purchases help put food on the cashier’s table, as well as your own? Of course not. Now consider how you would react if you had been told, “I see you here every Saturday morning, and I appreciate it that you prefer our store and selection and keep coming back.” You’d know your value as a customer had been noticed, and you’d be inclined to be an even more loyal shopper in the future.

Similarly, showing specific appreciation is essential to getting results done through employees. This is underscored time and again and all across the country by workplace opinion surveys.

A poll in 2000 by the non-profit San Diego Employers Association found employees rated feeling involved with and valued by their organizations as more motivating than higher pay, the latest work/life benefits or shorter work hours. In 19 surveys conducted in the Northeast in 2004, recognition of their good performance was one of the five factors employees said mattered the most in reinforcing their work commitment. And by contrast, 83 percent of a nationwide sample of workers recently told Gallup pollsters that their productivity is low and their loyalty to their employers is questionable because they feel they aren’t receiving the explicit appreciation they deserve.

Most managers realize that if hard work and going the extra mile go unmentioned or undervalued, employee morale and commitment can suffer. But don’t make the mistake of giving broad-brush compliments or expressions of thanks such as “Great job!”, “Terrific report!”, “You really pull your weight around here,” or “Nice outfit.” At best, this is “drive-by” appreciation. And if it’s perceived as a meaningless toss-off (and it can be), employees may see you as hypocritical and eventually turn cynical or even resentful.

To really show that you value and respect employees, first take the time and thought to identify what it is in particular that pleases you about their attitude, performance or contributions. Then demonstrate that you recognize their unique significance by being specific about the worthwhile difference that the employee makes in your organization. Here’s how:

  • Look at appreciation in a deeper way. Stumped about exactly what to show someone appreciation for? It may help to think of appreciation in the sense of growing in value or of strengthening a good quality. Ask yourself what employees have done that’s increased the value or usefulness of their work.
  • Keep an appreciation notebook. Record the pluses of employees’ performances. Before giving acknowledgment, review your notes for details you can mention to demonstrate to employees that you’re aware of how they’ve proved themselves in truly distinguishing ways.
  • Acknowledge actions and outcomes, not states of being. A major reason to recognize an employee through specifics is to encourage desirable behavior. “You look nice today!” may set the receptionist aglow, but it’s far more productive to tell her, “I appreciate how you help us favorably impress clients by always dressing in an attractive and professional way.”
  • Tell employees you appreciate them even if they’re “just doing their job.”
    Let’s be honest! If we were appreciated only when we gave 110 percent, almost all of us would go unrecognized almost all of the time. And as a manager, wouldn’t you find it refreshingly noteworthy if the people you lead were engaged in their work “only” 100 percent?

Don’t forget to single out the ways in which your co-managers and your own boss deserve your recognition too, and acknowledge them with full particulars. Because the most gratifying thing about specific appreciation is that the more you express it, the more people will give you cause to show it.

LBNT Spells Performance Improvement

Try this simple performance review tool to transform landmines in employee relations into steppingstones to collaboration.

Attention, supervisors and managers. Name the one responsibility that stresses you the most and for which you feel the least well trained.

If you answered, “giving my staff feedback on their performance,” you’re in good company. Especially for bosses without training in feedback skills, conducting an employee performance review can be a sweaty-palm experience akin to stumbling through a minefield. From merely uncomfortable, the encounter may grow tense, painful and perhaps downright hostile.

Even performance reviews that go well from your point of view may be time wasted in the eyes of your workers. In a January 2006 survey by the North American unit of Adecco SA, the world’s largest staffing solutions provider, nearly half of American workers (44%) said that the feedback they received from their bosses was not constructive or useful.

An effective way to sidestep this “damned if I do, doomed if I don’t” dilemma is to conduct performance reviews using the LBNT principle, shorthand for the questions: What did you Like Best about your performance? and What would you do differently Next Time?

When you invite employees to self-review their performance using the LBNT questions, you are using an energizing feedback tool with powerful, positive effects on worker morale and productivity and your own managerial effectiveness:

  1. Everyone has a gut feeling about the quality of their performance. A person’s self-appraisal of their work is most accurate when you ask for it immediately or very soon after they have done a task or completed a project. Because LBNT is simple and informal, you can use it to hold a review at any time; there’s no cumbersome paperwork and no waiting for an arbitrary annual or semi-annual review date.
  2. LBNT positions you as a helpful coach, not a critical judge. Asking someone to assess their own work pays them the implicit compliment that you consider them the expert on what they do and that they are worth heeding. Additionally, listening to an employee makes them feel supported and that you are enabling them to succeed, rather than forcing them to.
  3. The non-confrontational nature of LBNT encourages employees’ to trust that they can express opinions without retaliation or rejection from you. This confidence opens them up to providing important feedback on your performance as they review their own. You gain the opportunity to practice one of a manager’s most critical interpersonal skills: the ability to take input well as to give it.
  4. LBNT focuses on the present and looks to the future. Dwelling on past performance deficiencies won’t reverse their negative consequences and may instead provoke defensiveness and resentment in an employee. When that happens, the road to improvement is blocked. Better to head down it at once by asking an employee for his or her best judgment on mapping it out. This takes advantage of the tendency in all of us to keep on doing well what we already do expertly and to increase our gratification and the praise we receive by perfecting our results in areas where we perform less skillfully.
  5. As an open-ended inquiry, LBNT unveils what matters most to employees and what best motivates them. Ask me what I like best about my performance, and I’ll zero in on what carries the greatest weight with me for my self-image at work: my thoroughness, my efficiency, my expertise, or my effectiveness, for example. Simultaneously, I’ll reveal what I find most rewarding and inspiring-flexibility and independence (so I can be thorough), adequate resources and equipment (so I can be efficient), recognition (so others realize my proficiency), or training (which broadens and increases my effectiveness). A supervisor who receives these indicators from employees is much better equipped to increase their buy-in on specific projects and their engagement overall with their work.

These payoffs by no means exhaust the advantages of LBNT. Especially for employees, it gives them practice at solving problems proactively, encourages self-initiative and promotes self-responsibility for their own job satisfaction.

Best of all and for employees and managers alike, at performance reviews where you employ the Like Best and Next Time questions, you won’t have to pick your way through landmines; instead you’ll be laying steppingstones to a respectful collaboration that increases everyone’s value to your company or organization.

Downsize If You Must, But Don’t Dehumanize Workers

It’s common courtesy to affirm the worth of departing employees generously and genuinely and common sense from a business standpoint.

Companies often soft pedal massive layoffs to the media and investors, describing cutbacks as “downsizing,” “rightsizing” or (my favorite) “de-recruiting.” By contrast, they seldom pull their punches with the shell-shocked employees who get the ax. More disturbing, some employers let workers go in ways so disrespectful of their dignity and intelligence that they feel subjected to a humiliating public shaming.

Case in point: Northwest Airlines. The world’s fifth-largest air carrier is emerging from bankruptcy soon with fewer planes, fewer routes and 1,000 fewer service agents and baggage handlers. Last summer, some received a lay-off handbook that advises stretching their unemployment checks by dumpster diving, borrowing clothing from friends, shopping at pawnbrokers and cadging free drug samples from their doctors.

Northwest has since apologized to its outraged personnel. Nonetheless, the airline’s executives have nothing to be proud of; except, perhaps, that their thoughtlessness to employees stands as a classic of the genre.

Is it the turmoil of restructuring that causes some stressed managers to send employees out the door with the equivalent of a poke in the eye with a sharp stick? Or is it habitual blindness to every worker’s need to feel valued and to be told “thank you” in meaningful ways?

Sadly, I’m inclined to say it’s the latter. In nearly two decades of corporate counseling on employee relations and organizational change, I’ve found that many managers honestly believe that employees take vague and superficial praise such as “great work” or “terrific report” for sincere and serious expressions of respect and support.

Far from it: appreciation by autopilot is patronizing, and managers who dispense it also tend to dehumanize employees with an equally impersonal way of handing out pink slips, such as notifying workers by email. Worse, these offenders often include an expression of gratitude in their message that is as perfunctory as any their staffers received while on the payroll.

Companies that conduct hamhanded layoffs risk demoralizing remaining workers and discouraging potential new hires by giving the lie to such claims as, “our employees are our greatest assets.” Many corporations declare just that on their web sites and in their annual reports and recruiting literature. If workers are truly so valuable, they should be treated with elementary consideration and genuine recognition when they are forced to depart-and even more important, when they are still employed.

Research consistently underlines that employees hunger for recognition and praise and that satisfying this need can yield significant competitive advantages.

In national surveys every decade since 1946, Americans have rated a sincere word of appreciation from the boss as one of the top five payoffs of employment. Think about it: leaving aside pay and benefits, for 60 years simple recognition has stoked employee satisfaction more powerfully than having adequate equipment, a safe place to work or a crack at promotion.

Other studies have repeatedly shown the supercharging effect that timely and deserved appreciation has on employee productivity, loyalty and quality of work and customer service.

Companies attuned to the “human” in human resources are documented to be 44 percent more profitable and 50 percent more productive than the average, with a 50 percent higher level of customer loyalty. They include the “Forbes 100 Best Companies to Work For,” which in the last six years have posted shareholder gains of 176 percent, compared to only 39 percent for the Standard & Poor 500.

Maximizing the morale and profit-boosting impact of employee recognition requires showing workers what I call “specific appreciation.” This is “thank you” on steroids: prompt, detailed and authentic acknowledgment that anyone can give at any time. It highlights exactly what it is that someone is doing right, where their contribution fits in and its practical importance to the enterprise. Moreover, it motivates them to do more of the same:

Thank you for getting that market research to me a day early . . . . now I won’t be so rushed working up slides and an executive summary for the CEO to use to brief the Board next week . . . . with a strategic roadmap based on your work, their decisionmaking will be sounder . . . .

Aircraft and landing rights, inventory and stores do not grow demoralized when ignored or devalued. Good managers know that workers do (including soon-to-be ex-employees), and that their sense of justice, self-respect and dignity must be honored. It is only by affirming peoples’ worth that they can be inspired—whether to stick diligently to mundane tasks or to excel beyond expectations.