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Essential Management: Managing the Stress of Employee Evaluations
By: Celeste Vaughan-Briggs




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What to do about the "problem employee"? Every organization and program has them, lurking in the shadows. Individuals who have difficulty performing the duties and tasks that fall within their job description either consistently or at all. There is little mentioned about the stress felt by managers when faced with handing out discipline to a "problem employee."

Aside from Marine drill sergeants and sadists, very few people actually like handing out discipline. This fact flies full in the face of what many employees believe about administration and management. It is the power of myth. One component of a popular work myth states that managers, "like to belittle people," and that they, "get excited," about firing someone. This usually is far from the truth.

With being a manager there comes inherent responsibilities and stresses, particularly evaluating employee performance. How effective managers acknowledge performance and disciplinary issues and deal with them is diverse, but there are a few basic essentials to handling that stress effectively.

Essential #1: Clarity
One of the best ways to handle any workplace stress, in particular evaluating another person's work performance, is to have clarity about your own role, function and responsibilities. Having a solid foundation and being able to both demonstrate and articulate that foundation to your staff will go a long way towards establishing healthy and constructive norms within the program. Often in social service you find the Workaholic Olympics. This phenomenon is where an employee is more highly valued by the organization when they demonstrate giving themselves "selflessly" to the agency.

This "selfless giving" can involve but is not limited to stretching and/or breaking important boundaries involving caseload, work hours and performing extra duties not included in the job description. What then follows is an expectation from the top levels of the agency down through lower level management that "effective and productive employees" should operate with the same norms.

In this type of workplace the manager does not have a good handle own his or her own role and function. This can be hidden until the manager has to evaluate employees and finds himself or herself stressed because very few are "measuring up" to the standards that have been set. The manager who might recognize themselves in this scenario can be assisted by seeking out support, training and resources from peer supervision groups, outside clinical consultation, the human resources department or an outside consultant who can assist in finding short and long term solutions.

Essential #2: Understand the Culture
Understanding the culture of the agency that you work in can be a useful tool in formulating a plan to deal with the stresses of evaluating employees. If you can, ask to speak with other managers about how they evaluate their employees. Speak to your human resources department, and ask for input about how different departments and managers evaluate employees who are having problems. What are the norms for progressive discipline in your agency? Asking good questions to get a better handle on the mechanics and the context of evaluating employees is an essential stress reduction tool.

Managers often find it stressful to address disciplinary issues because of the worry about appearing fair and balanced. This is true for both the for- and not-for-profit worlds. But with human beings having such different ideas about what's "fair" what direction should the manager take?

Giving clear feedback that is designed to help employees produce and function well in the workplace should be the goal of every manager. However, this is often as difficult for managers to do, as is it for employees to receive. The worry about being perceived as unfair often is paired with concern about possible legal or review board action against the manager. Essential for managers to remember is that constructive feedback, which can be clearly linked to observable and documented examples, is part of the responsibilities of being a Manager. Being "nice" when evaluating an employee isn't nearly as effective as being tactful and HONEST.

There is no one simple answer to managing the stress of evaluating employees' performance and dealing with those who require disciplinary action. Each supervisor/manager must balance developing their own style while following the respective company's Policy and Procedure Manual. Consulting with your Human Resource Department and your supervisor when attempting to decide how to address the "problem employee" can be helpful. If you are in an organization that does not have those resources, seek out peers or other professionals who can address your needs. Better yet, trust your instincts about how to handle the situation. Rarely are your instincts wrong.


About the Author

Celeste Vaughan-Briggs, L.S.W., is a Clinical Manager with a non-profit that supports and assists the behavioral health system in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, Vaughan-Briggs earned a degree in psychology from Temple University and a master's in social work from the University of Pennsylvania. Vaughan-Briggs, also a therapist specializing in working with traumatized adults and teens, can be reached at celeste@taylortraining.com.

Copyright 2003 Taylor Training & Development
http://www.taylortraining.com/TailoredBriefs/
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of the Tailored Briefs newsletter and is reproduced here with permission.