Bosses with high standards: HR can help

5 quick tips on how HR professionals can help employees cope with challenging managers.

How HR can help manage bosses with high standards

Have a look around your office, your floor, your organisation. How satisfied do you think people are? How challenged? Do they feel supported by leaders and enthused to succeed... or stressed and like they’re continually being hung out to dry?

According to the latest industry research, one of your biggest challenges as an HR professional dedicated to a happy and productive workplace, is actually the leaders and managers who work around you. Randstad’s Work Monitor reports 84% of Aussies feel their organisations demand more of them than ever before. LinkedIn’s Talent Trends 2014 indicates around a fifth of those people who are unhappy in their jobs attribute this dissatisfaction to average leaders.

While average leaders can take a variety of shapes and forms, some of the toughest ones to work for can actually be those who are high performers, with big ambitions and expectations of themselves and others. Unfortunately for their teams – especially those who are building careers in fields like law or advertising – these kinds of managers are more often the rule than the exception, and learning to work with them can be vital to success.

Within your role, you’ll often provide leadership training to managers like this in the hope you can hone their management skills to help make them more effective leaders. But ask yourself, how often do we train their teams in how to cope with a manager who has extremely high expectations? The answer is rarely. More-often-than-not, they simply become one of the organisation’s somewhat costly turnover statistics and they move on. But do they have to? In your HR capacity, are there some tips and tricks you can pass on that may help them over that initial hurdle and have them working seamlessly with a leader who once left them frazzed, confused and crying in your office doorway?

Tip 1: Managing expectations

Let’s be honest, in high octane, competitive workplaces, the thought of saying ‘no’ to your boss is absolutely cringe-worthy. In your mind, it results in a boss who doesn’t like you, thinks you’re lazy and won’t trust you with anything worth doing ever again. But managers aren’t monsters (mostly) and as human beings, do understand there are limitations on what others can physically do.

The challenge with a high-performance manager is they can easily forget that everyone else doesn’t work the way they do. Teaching team members to communicate openly and honestly, yet respectfully with such managers can be invaluable to their working relationships and realising their own ambition and potential. Showing them how to relay to a manager that some things just aren’t physically possible, can result in much greater team synergy.

Tip 2: Managing up

‘Managing up’.  It’s a term many of us have often heard, but few of us have received any guidance on how to do it effectively without getting the boss offside. Managing up is basically an extension of managing expectations, and in a lot of ways mirrors managing direct reports. With a report, it is common for a manager to talk with them about career plans, how they like to work, how we manage time and to identify KPIs. Managing up is not a lot different, it’s just initiated from below. As an HR professional, it can be highly valuable to talk with employees about how to approach their manager, open up dialogue to talk about the differences in their working approaches, and set an agreed plan of what the employee will achieve, so the manager’s expectations are set in stone.

Tip 3: Keeping it clean

One thing that is a concern in fast-paced, high pressure environments – especially those like media or hospitality – is the temptation to reach higher performance by being high. And like performance enhancing drugs don’t work out well for athletes, they also don’t have positive effects in an office. Feeling under pressure, like they can’t keep up, can make drugs that make them feel faster, more focused – and keep them awake well into the early hours – seem like a God-send.

It’s not only part of your job in HR to keep an eye on employees who may be feeling this kind of pressure, but also to know what to look out for when it comes to drug use in the workplace and how to deal with it. Managing drug use at work starts with robust education so everyone knows what the rules are and why. And if the unfortunate situation presents, it continues with conversations aimed at identifying performance problems (that may be drug-related) without actually accusing an employee of taking drugs. If this seems like a big responsibility – it is! But don’t despair, documents like these ones from NCPIC are a great first step to educating yourself so you can support others.

Tip 4: Prioritising and time management

It seems so simple, planning out their hours and managing tasks one step at a time. But when their task list is endless, and their boss seems to be able to do all these jobs at break-neck speed, sometimes what should be simple, is just an added stress. Working with high-performance teams to establish good time-management and prioritising practices can really help each person feel more comfortable with their workload. They will be more realistic with what they expect of themselves, and be able to talk to their manager, if needed, about the volume of tasks that have been assigned.

Tip 5: Your manager is human too (seriously!)

Finally, one big important insight to pass on to the now hopefully more uplifted person in your office doorway, is that everyone is different, everyone works at a different pace, has different strengths and brings different things to a team – and their manager is human, they will understand (even if they need a little reminding). Sometimes, all an employee needs is to remember this one important fact and it can give them the will to power on to another day!

 

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