Thursday, June 9, 2011

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

As an HR professional, I sometimes see articles that are especially relevant for our times.  This one caught my eye, and we should all be educated on this serious workplace issue, especially before tonight’s Game 5:

Addressing Employee Behavior Changes

Everyone has a bad day at the office occasionally. Day to day work can admittedly be a grind at times, and some office environments can be highly competitive.  Yet when an employee suddenly begins to have a lot of bad days, or he or she displays behavior that seems odd or even alarming, it’s time for HR to take action, experts say.

Professor Lane Violation, author of the new book (Rebound: Bouncing Back from a Loss) on identifying and addressing dramatic employee behavior changes, has seen some erratic employee actions over the years, and he detailed the warning signs for attendees at the NBA Cares Conference in Dallas, TX this week.

“If you have an employee who suddenly shrinks from the moment, or in clutch situations, doesn’t demand the ball, you could have an employee on your hands with personal issues,” he declared.  Violation said that it is critical to notice employees who are normally active in the workplace who towards the end of the work day tend to stand in the corner, waiting for things to happen. 
“If one of your co-workers can’t adjust to the pressures of their responsibilities, the whole team loses.  Other team members may be inclined to avoid that person, and defer to others when the clock starts to run out, but long-term, you could be hurting both the individual and the team.”

It is a common misconception that shying away from the pressure and disappearing when the employee is needed most happens to average employees often.  “It is the superstar in your midst that is the most likely candidate to choke when the expectations rise.  In those moments, he becomes withdrawn and let’s others carry the load.  It’s not fair, and left untreated, everyone’s performance will suffer.  It’s only a matter of time before business revenues are impacted, too.”

Violation listed the consequences of not dealing with one of these usually great employees when he visibly checks out on the job. 
“It’s a safety issue.  If one employee will not or cannot participate fully at work, this could be a sign that they will be a danger to themselves or others in the future.  In good conscience, the co-workers should take it upon themselves to notify HR, or the authorities if the situation warrants.”

Recent history backs up this concern for an employee who stands idly by while his teammates pick up all the slack.  In the U.S. Senate report about the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas on Nov. 5. 2009, the assailant was described as “a ticking time bomb” and that his sometimes erratic behavior had been ignored by others.

“Passing the ball too quickly, not facing the basket, biting fingernails, avoiding contact in the lane – these can all be signs of a larger problem in the future,” said Ima Chucker, Cleveland-based workplace psychologist, and author of the best seller, Taking Your Talents Elsewhere: Why Your Former Employer May Secretly Be Happy You Quit.

So how can a co-worker offer help to the disengaged employee without being seen as a threat?  Violation recommends professional interventions, such as the resources of the employer EAP (Employee Assistance Program).  “Unless you think you can get the job done with one team member standing practically on the sidelines while deadlines to perform come and go, you are going to have to take steps to help the person,” Violation said.  “Hoping that a replacement worker will rise to the occasion is too big a risk.  You have to coax your best to act that way under pressure.”

Don't assume an employee has “turned bad” just because they have a sudden change in behavior, said Drew Afoul, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based employment attorney. “He may have a problem that is legally protected.”

“Sometimes, these situations involve a medical issue or disability,” Afoul argued. “In those instances, after any immediate safety risk is addressed—and that includes the safety of the employee acting strangely—management should ensure that it properly guards any medical information that has been shared on Twitter or otherwise, and should also watch for any issues that may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or similar state statutes.”

Employees should refrain from making such situations a matter for gossip.  Medical privacy should be respected, although that can sometimes be difficult if not impossible.  “The guy is standing there while everyone else is running around sweating, competing, doing whatever it takes to win.  It’s impossible not to notice that something is wrong with that guy,“ said a co-worker of a certain employee who suffered from shrinkage in big moments at work.  “I can’t give him the ball ‘cause he’s not looking for the ball.”

“When that happens, I ignore him and try to do everything myself.  Hopefully, that will be enough.”

Professor Violation does not believe that a change of scenery is always the answer.  “Just allowing the employee to relocate to, say, South Beach will not solve the underlying problem.  The damage usually runs deeper than even a 5 year beach vacation can fix.”

“If you aren’t comfortable approaching a co-worker, express your concerns with your supervisor or someone in human resources,” Afoul said.  “Before it’s too late, and the final buzzer sounds.”

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