Personal Assistance Service (PAS) | 2200 West Main Street | Erwin Square Tower | 4th Floor, Suite 400A | Durham, NC 27705 | 919-416-1PAS (919-416-1727)

Supervisor Newsletter Archives

Enhancing Team Morale


Q. I have an employee who behaves as if he "knows" everything. Other employees suppress their opinions around him, so I miss their input on issues that need to be resolved. The tricky part is that he really is smart, but how do I address a problem like this?

A. It is difficult for some supervisors to imagine that a very smart employee with significant skills and major contributions could also be a problem employee. This is an example of the "halo effect." This can make it a challenge to confront an employee about conduct issues. Obviously, it takes more than intelligence to be effective in the workplace. It also takes teamwork, soft skills, and emotional intelligence - the ability to recognize others' needs and feelings and use this information effectively. These skills appear lacking or unapplied in this instance. You can quantify the effect that your employee's behavior, conduct, and attitude have on others. You also can observe behaviors that lead to these effects. This is all you need in order to compose the effective documentation necessary to discuss and counsel your employee. Meet with PAS, however, for consultative help on pulling these pieces together in a way that will be effective when you sit down to discuss the issues and make changes.

Q. I have two employees who don’t get along. It’s starting to create friction within the department. I don’t want battle lines to be drawn among the others. This is my last shot to end the problem, but how and when do I involve PAS?

A. Personality conflicts can lead to quarrelsome relationships. They typically do not respond to classic attempts at problem-solving and negotiating like other workplace conflicts. Ending the quarrelsome pattern requires self-discipline and resolve because due to its habitual nature. The warring parties must believe management is determined to take action if the two employees do not. These problematic dyads often follow a progressive path: mini-crisis, counseling or pleading by supervisors, periods of calm, and a repeating cycle. Make employees aware that change is nonnegotiable and that you are committed to an administrative or disciplinary solution to help the employees change if they don’t make progress. This message may instill the needed sense of urgency. PAS can assist you along the way with consultation, or the employee referral process. Supervisors may also receive mediation through the Staff and Labor Relations Department.

Q. I am concerned about an employee who works too much and may be at risk for burnout or may be straining relationships outside work. The employee also spends time helping other employees. I would like to refer my employee to Personal Assistance Service. Since that person always has outstanding work performance, it would appear that there is no valid reason to make a Personal Assistance Service referral. However their pattern of overworking seems unusually high.

A. Create a plan for your employee outlining specifically what you consider to be a reasonable workload. Employees with strong work ethics are to be admired, but it appears you are observing something far different. You might consider encouraging a self-referral to Personal Assistance Service based on your concern that the employee's level of working too much could be indicative of some other personal issue. All employees bring their personalities to work and sometimes certain tendencies can lead to behavioral concerns if not moderated. These issues often do not necessarily interfere with occupational functioning or become measurable concerns for management. However, when they do, disturbances in personal and work boundaries will typically become noticeable. Personal Assistance Service can help employees address issues.

Q. What does the research say about giving employees breaks during the day? We are so busy, frankly, that I don't encourage people to take breaks. I don't stand in anyone's way, but I assume not encouraging them to take breaks sends a nonverbal negative message.

A. New research on taking breaks at work was recently conducted by Baylor University. The findings were the first of their kind. The study focused on why work breaks are valuable, what time to take breaks, the best type of work break to take, what to do during a work break, and the physical and mental health benefits of taking breaks. Key findings include that it is better to take a work break mid-morning, before fatigue is experienced. This replenishes resources-energy, concentration, and motivation-more successfully than breaks taken at any other time of day. The later a break comes in the day, the less effective it will be. The best breaks are the ones where employees do something they enjoy, and this could even be work-related. There is no evidence that non-work-related activities are more beneficial. Better breaks produce better mental health and increased job satisfaction. Now you have reasons to encourage taking breaks. Source: [Search: 159785]

Q. How can I energize my employees and get them to feel excited about the work we are doing?

A. Consider taking every opportunity to recognize your employees' contributions while urging them to excel. Spend time periodically letting them feel your enthusiasm for the work, the goal, the vision, and the ultimate outcome because this positivity is contagious when it's genuine. Be sure you find your own ways to stay excited and energized because if you can't feel excitement yourself, it will not be possible to pass it along to them. Remind employees about their past achievements, and get them to understand the underlying reasons they succeeded and did so well. This will offer clues about what keeps them energized. Set a goal and urge employees to top last year's achievements. If they feel your energy and genuine concern for them, they are more likely to accept your challenge and work enthusiastically to achieve the goal.

Q. I have an employee whom I consider unmotivated and sluggish, but a referral to Personal Assistance Service for this problem doesn’t sound like the right thing to do. Do you have recommendations about dealing with this type of behavior?

A. Some employees may appear disinclined to work or slow to exert themselves to accomplish required tasks of their job. S referral to Personal Assistance Service is probably not the best initial step, but it may come later after you attempt the following work-centered interventions. Note that the following is not a diagnostic process.

  1. Hold a discussion with your employee about how he/she feels about the job. Seek to uncover his or her attitudes toward it.
  2. Also, ask about his or her personal goals in relation to the work. Be honest, and say you have noticed a slow-moving work style, trouble taking initiative, not always getting things done on time, or other measurable behaviors.
  3. Stress the value of the employee’s position in the organization, and see whether you can elicit a higher level of excitement.
  4. If these steps fail, then arrange a referral to Personal assistance Service.

Q. We have a troubled employee with many behavioral issues who took a leave of absence from work. This employee’s lengthy absences had coworkers hoping and believing that he would not return. He’s back, and employees are upset. How can this issue best be managed?

A. Your employee will return to work and either maintain satisfactory work performance or not. You should document the employee’s work performance, noting positive changes or continuation of any performance issues. Meet and discuss your concerns with your employee. Set standards for what you expect. Ask how he feels about coming back and what, if anything, is needed from you to support him in doing the job well. This discussion demonstrates your impartiality. If employees voice concerns about the employee’s return to work, remind them that your role is to be fair and impartial. Do not discuss the employee’s issues. Encourage individual workers to come to you with their concerns first so you can address them rather than risk bullying or “mobbing” of this employee by an angry group of coworkers.

Q. My employee discusses many personal problems at work. One day it’s health issues, the next day it’s problems with her sister-in-law. It’s bothersome to coworkers, and I fear it could impact her co-workers’ work satisfaction. Should I refer her to the Personal Assistance Service? Is this a performance matter?

A. Meet with your employee in private and express your concern that so many different things seem to affect her life. Give her a chance to respond. She may instantly realize that she is too talkative about personal issues. This may prompt change. Sometimes problems like this are resolved in mere seconds. If not, share your observations that the frequency in which she discusses her multiple problems suggests these problems have become difficult for her to cope with. Let her know that Personal Assistance Service is a confidential counseling resource with professionals who are trained to help employees find ways of coping with situations such as those that she has difficulty with.  If no changes are forthcoming, and self-referral to the Personal Assistance Service is declined, you might consider documenting what you observe about her interactions with co-workers, so you are prepared to counsel her about any interactions that negatively impact her work or her co-workers’ work satisfaction. 

Q. I am a new supervisor. I am sure there will be many challenges, but with all the different personalities of employees I supervise, how can I best help each one perform to his or her peak?

A. Understanding that each of your employees will see you differently, will relate to you differently, and will need different things from you is the place to start. Many managers make the mistake of seeing their employees as “the troops.” As such, they communicate with them as though they are soldiers in a barracks waiting for orders. Take the opposite approach. It takes time, but over months and years, pay attention to how your employees are unique in five key ways: 

  1. Communication style and needs 
  2. Career goals, hopes, dreams, education desires
  3. Motivation triggers and reward preferences
  4. Limitations, avoidances, and dislikes
  5. Leadership and problem-solving capacity

There are more, but these five hit most of the bases. Growing to understand each one will help maximize employee job satisfaction and productivity. 

Q. I got angry with an employee who has been doing a lousy job, and I'm sure I was pretty intimidating. How can I keep my emotions under wraps in the future?

A. To reduce your risk of becoming angry in a performance counseling session, spend time planning the meeting and what you want to focus on. This will help you create the proper mind-set. A lack of structure will predispose you to act emotionally because you will likely feel a lack of control over the process. This feeling will be made worse if your employee is provocative or shows indifference. Avoid feeling pressured by time in such meetings. This adds to your anxiety. Maintaining a constructive tone and calm professional demeanor often flows from proper planning, rather than the practice of anger-management techniques. However, if a pattern of anger reveals itself in such meetings, contact Personal Assistance Service for a consultation.

Q. It's difficult initiating conversations that an employee will find alarming and disappointing - things like dismissals, transfers, moving an office, reduction in hours, or other challenging topics. I tend to procrastinate on such discussions. How do I act sooner?

A. Recognizing the problem of procrastination indicates you're halfway to solving it. Procrastination is the number one roadblock and compounding issue that makes any difficult conversation more stressful and is the best predictor of an undesirable reaction. Almost universally, difficult conversations are delayed for one reason: waiting for the perfect time. Of course, it would be easier to tell an employee their job was being eliminated after he or she won the lottery. But delaying typically creates more problems. It is not always necessary to rehearse in front of a mirror, but rehearsing your plan can build confidence. Considering the answers to potential questions your employees may ask, can prove helpful. This process will reduce your anxiety the most. If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of the meeting, meet with a counselor at Personal Assistance Service to process your concerns, fears, or guilt. You'll feel more empowered, and you'll be better prepared to be of help to your employees, regardless of their reactions.

Q. How can I help employees be less territorial and more open to the ideas, perspectives, and suggestions of others when they need to work together as a team?

A. Employee cooperation in a team environment requires a work culture that is maintained and nurtured so that cooperation becomes an established practice. Without this supportive environment, teams fracture and individuals become competitive. Conflicts ensue, cliques emerge, and productivity suffers. Symptoms of this fracturing include poor information sharing, lack of mutual help in solving problems, poor communication, and vying for credit. The good news is that humans have innate skills to work in teams. Discover what reinforces lack of cooperation and undermines team thinking. Consider giving everyone a refresher in how teams work and their value. Hold discussions to process specific issues or roadblocks to the team's effectiveness. Next, add practical exercises designed to build more trust. Be sure to set expectations, make sure teams meet, and reward both team cooperation and individual participation going forward. Personal Assistance Service can be a resource for you if you need validation and encouragement to begin this initiative. Learning and Organization Development can also be a resource if you need ideas and training for you and your employees on subjects such as team building and collaboration.

Q. My employees procrastinate. Can you give me suggestions as a supervisor on ways to help them get their work done on time? There must be things I can do to help them correct this habit.

A. Although we all tend to procrastinate, resolving the procrastination problems that your employees face is not a one-solution-fits-all situation. There are many resources to help employees with this problem, but each employee's procrastination problem is unique. While one employee may be easily distracted, another may need better organizational skills. Some employees may have health or mental health issues such as depression that contribute to low levels of productivity, and others may have a substance abuse issue. Dozens of reasons exist, but procrastination in each case is a symptom. Employees would benefit from understanding what the cause of their procrastination is. Express your concerns about their procrastinating behavior and offer Personal Assistance Service as a resource to help them identify root causes and work through possible solutions.

Q. How can supervisors help promote high levels of productivity on the job and less counterproductive work behaviors?

A. Managers positively influence employee behaviors in many ways, but the fundamental ways are being sure employees know what they are supposed to be doing and how they will be held accountable. Counterproductive workplace behaviors are significant among employees who experience ambiguity about what's expected of them. A study by Florida State University's College of Business found only 20 percent of employees knew what they were supposed to accomplish each day at work and how they would be held accountable. The remaining 80 percent reported varying levels of awareness of what they were responsible or accountable for at work. Among this group counterproductive work behaviors such as absenteeism, trust issues, job neglect, personality conflicts, and morale problems were found. Rare or nonexistent performance reviews will make these problems worse. When difficult employee problems arise always consider whether ambiguity about duties and accountability are compounding the issues you face.

Q. What can supervisors do to improve the likelihood that an employee will make desired changes in behaviors or improved productivity?

A. Supervisors usually know what they want changed or corrected, but just as important as what they want is when they want it. Make sure your employee knows the specific date that you need to see changes completed. Supervisors often omit the "when" from corrective interviews. Think about your own life experience. What leads you to actually take the steps to accomplish a task, especially one you would rather delay? Your energy to get moving, take action, and finish a task is often prompted by a deadline, which creates a sense of urgency. Feeling an urgent need to do something is linked to the deadline rather than to the value of the task itself. If you suspect that there are behavioral, emotional or stress-related factors creating barriers to the employee's success with making changes, consider referring the employee to Personal Assistance Service.

Q. I have an employee who is shy and has always refused requests to speak in public. I have accommodated the employee's fear until recently, but it is now time to intervene, because it is part of the job description. Should I refer the employee to Personal Assistance Service for help with this problem?

A. Meet with your employee and discuss the nature of the position and its responsibilities. Be positive, hopeful, and supportive. Discuss how you have made allowances for their fear of speaking until now, but that going forward it will be an expectation of the position to make work-related presentations. It is a good idea to recommend Personal Assistance Service to the employee as one resource that can be helpful. The Personal Assistance Service staff will help your employee challenge habits of thinking, and help with learning new behaviors that focus externally on the social environment rather than internally on fear, anxiety, and social performance.

You might also recommend and support your employee in taking advantage of other training resources that the Duke Community offers. As a starting point suggest to the employee that he/she take a look at the course offerings available through Learning and Organization Development. Again remain positive and anticipate change and cooperation going forward.

Q. Many new employees get into trouble because they don't understand the work culture, the unwritten rules of communication, and the politics. Perhaps it's not fair, but should I coach employees on these qualitative matters or hope that they will figure it out over time?

A. They may not be fair or productive, but politics, power, and communication nuances in organizations are a reality. Any lasting work organization will acquire unwritten rules for how employees must behave in order to fit in. Naturally, being out of touch or discovering these things the hard way can break an employee's spirit. This makes it important to orient your employees and coach or mentor them appropriately in the finer points of successfully navigating the work culture. Don't wait until your employees are confused, experience communication or performance problems, or encounter conflicts. Instead, give some thought to what these political factors are and make them part of your coaching discussions. This is helpful for employees and the work organization because it helps synchronize employee behavior with the organization's culture. You may not like politics, but don't shy completely away from them; instead, adapt with awareness and help your employees do the same.

Q. As a supervisor, how can I help my employees use emotional intelligence to do a better job at managing our customers?

A. You might begin helping your employees use Emotional Intelligence (EI) in their job by defining EI as being the ability to recognize, describe, understand, manage, influence, and utilize emotions effectively in human relationships. The following EI ideas can help your employees be more effective and experience less stress with regard to customers: 1) Pay attention to customers' emotions and how they change or shift so that the needs of the customer are more precisely met. 2) Use empathy with customers. 3) Use emotions in communications (e.g., "Are you happy with your selection?" rather than, "Did you find everything you were looking for?" Or, if your customers are not purchasing a product, you might consider asking "how else might I help you?" rather than, "Is there anything else you need?") 4) Anticipate customers' concerns and inquire about them before they are stated. 5) Pay attention to body language that can give signals as to needs or desires. There are many more ideas about how to use EI at work, but these examples will help generate deeper customer loyalty and improved relationships within the workplace.

Q. What is fear of success and how can I help support an employee who is struggling with reaching his goals?

A. Fear of success has been discussed in psychology journals for decades. You also will find many references to it in contemporary literature. Fear of success is created by anxiety associated with the anticipation of reaching a goal. The phenomenon usually is outside the awareness of the person experiencing it. With most achievements, positive and at times negative consequences occur. There may be a need to make changes in response to the achievement. These factors may be challenging and may produce anxiety resulting in procrastination, the inability to complete assignments, failure to anticipate problems that undermine the goal, distractions, beliefs about the unattainable nature of the goal, or behaviors that undermine action steps to the goal's timely completion. Would-be goal achievers are usually not aware of how they sabotage their own success and often are baffled by the inability to get what they desire. You can help by insisting on timely achievements, results, accountability, and seeking help from PAS.

Q. How do I manage employees who are not poor performers but take up an inordinate amount of my time? They may need a lot of attention to understand assignments, or they may respond with a lot of emotions when faced with small irritations.

A. Many undesirable employee behaviors are not necessarily found on a performance issues checklist. You may first consider discussing your concerns with Staff and Labor Relations to determine if these employee behaviors are in any way creating performance problems. Another recommendation would be to see if Learning and Organization Development offers any training on managing the type of employee behaviors you are experiencing. Personal Assistance Service also offers telephone or face-to-face management consultation. In addition, Personal Assistance Service is also a resource for the employee with the undesirable behavior.

Building Good Supervisor/Employee Relationships

Q. I am a new supervisor and want to avoid common mistakes. What are the top complaints of employees about supervisors?

A. A national 2015 Harris Poll was conducted that asked employees this question. Read about it in the Harvard Business Review online. These complaints, starting with the most frequently cited, are:

  1. Not recognizing employee achievements,
  2. Not giving clear directions,
  3. Not having time to meet with employees,
  4. Refusing to talk to subordinates,
  5. Taking credit for others' ideas,
  6. Not offering constructive criticism,
  7. Not knowing employees' names,
  8. Refusing to talk to people on the phone or in person,
  9. And not asking about employees' lives outside work.

Keeping this list in mind as you begin your role as a manager. Working to champion all of these areas will produce more engaged and satisfied employees, reduce turnover, and play a role in helping meet business goals. Personal Assistance Service can offer management consultations around any of these areas where you think you need help.

Q. We have a diverse work group of about 50 employees, and it seems clear to me that everyone gets along well. I never get complaints, and I witness no inappropriate interactions. Is diversity awareness education or training still needed?

A. Diversity and inclusiveness awareness can be suitable for any workgroup, not necessarily because of existing problems but to reinforce and strengthen a positive work culture that already exists. It can also help employees better understand implicit bias and how our own biases can lead to misunderstandings with others. Although you perceive a high-functioning and inclusive workgroup, you can never be sure that covert, unspoken, or unacknowledged biases exist and that they have been felt. Diversity awareness plays an intervening role in averting potential problems. Also, if you have 50 employees, turnover is a natural part of the organizational process, and this alone could support a rationale for ongoing education.

Q. I have an employee whose teenager was caught at school with "bath salts." Now I hear the teen is in a drug treatment program somewhere in California. Is there any reason to suggest the employee contact Personal Assistance Service, since the teen is in treatment?

A. Suggesting Personal Assistance Service as a source of help would be appropriate because this personal problem that exists within your employee's family, invariably impacts your employee. The teen's treatment program will make recommendations for aftercare, follow-up services, possibly 12-step meetings for the teen, and most likely, self-help groups for the parents. The Personal Assistance Service counselor can provide support to the employee/other parent, as well as help the parents with information and referrals necessary for coping with this family problem. Because the treatment center is out of state, the parents may not be familiar with follow-up resources that the teen will need after discharge. Personal Assistance Service can help the family identify local resources to assist them as they recover from this crisis.

Q. Most people think of enabling as protecting a worker by covering up for mistakes, loaning money, making excuses, and other classic examples. What other enabling behaviors do supervisors exhibit that may be more subtle? Also, what drives these enabling behaviors?

A. Most supervisors’ enabling behaviors serve one overriding purpose—to decrease the stress of the supervisor’s job by minimizing the perceived severity of the behavioral issues the employee exhibits. To show how veiled yet potent these enabling behaviors can be, consider the following: (1) downplaying inappropriate behavior; (2) ignoring red flags that signal there may be trouble; (3) being agreeable, accepting excuses, and not making waves; (4) minimizing a troubled employee’s problems when speaking with one’s superiors; (5) giving reassurances to employees when they come to discuss personal problems that things will work themselves out as opposed to making a referral to Personal Assistance Service; and (6) doing extra work to help out because of the employee’s inability to perform.

Q. I am a new supervisor and admit that I have some anxiety about the responsibility of this role. I know I have the ability to do it, but how do I get past this anxiety I feel? Can Personal Assistance help?

A. Yes, Personal Assistance Service can help. Personal Assistance Service provides Supervisor Consultation around a number of concerns, including the anxiety of taking on this new role. Fear of anything new is normal. It appears that although you have some anxiety about your new role, you are also excited and thankful for the position. That will likely help you overcome your concerns. Two things are keeping your anxiety high: 1) you haven’t worked as a supervisor before, and 2) succeeding in this role is important to you. You seem to have visions of disaster that fuel your anxiety. A Personal Assistance Service counselor will help you develop an action plan and a way to help you detach from fear associated with the job. One technique the counselor will teach you is how to stay in the moment and focus on what you have to do rather than skip to the future and imagine negative outcomes. This is called staying in the now. The counselor will also share other cognitive strategies or find other resources to assist you.

Q. One of my colleagues suggested I become more culturally sensitive. Why is that important and how would I go about increasing my level of cultural sensitivity in the workplace?

A. The best argument for increasing one’s level of cultural sensitivity is to improve engagement of workers and their job satisfaction. Gallup, the polling organization, has maintained a rolling seven-day average of Cultural Sensitivity since first reporting on it several years ago. The recent results showed that only 31 percent of workers in general were viewed as culturally sensitive.  Improving cultural sensitivity is a professional responsibility.  To enhance your cultural competence (also referred to as cultural intelligence or “CQ”), consider books such as David Livermore’s The Cultural Intelligence Difference. Another helpful resource is This website describes virtually every aspect of business communication, family values, and the social customs of every country in the world. 

Q. I have a personality clash with my employee. I am trying to practice emotional detachment, but it is hard not to show bias against such persons on the job, and I definitely don't want to show bias.

A. Not every supervisor will enjoy the personality style of each employee. You are right about the need to be cautious and avoid something called "social undermining." This refers to any behavior or attitude toward your employee with the goal of sabotaging and curtailing that person from advancing, achieving, or being recognized for what he or she accomplishes. Social undermining is not necessarily bullying - it may be completely covert. Hindering success is the distinguishing feature of this behavior.  Personal Assistance Service can be a valuable resource to help you objectively assess your attitude. You may discover certain elements of your employee's work style or personality that create feelings of unease for you. Gaining more insight about these feelings or issues that surface as you interact with this employee can go a long way in helping you overcome them.

Q. What is the “Lone Ranger Syndrome” with regard to the supervisor’s role in the workplace?

A. “The Lone Ranger Syndrome” is a construct originally conceptualized by U.S. Department of Human Resources HR specialist Art Purvis in the mid-1970s, when employee assistance programs were in a growth boom. In his work with supervisors, he often observed their reluctance to deal with their own personal problems of depression, anxiety, or struggles, which were made worse by the isolation in their position. Although supervisors might refer employees to an employee assistance program such as Personal Assistance Service, supervisors often believe they have to tough it out. The tendency for supervisors to help others while suffering in silence and going it alone led to the coining of the phrase “Lone Ranger Syndrome.”  The message for supervisors is clear: Do not allow the job and its special stress to cause you to neglect your own health and wellness needs. Begin, by scheduling an initial consultation with Personal Assistance Service to discuss your personal concerns.  

Q. Many of my staff members are far more knowledgeable than I am about our work responsibilities, but I am responsible for managing the work unit and team. How can I develop credibility with my staff when I don't know as much as they do?

A. Ironically, the first step to enhancing credibility with your staff is to admit what you don't know and ask for input. Many managers or supervisors have less knowledge about products, systems, and processes than those they supervise. Even if you were the one with more knowledge, knowing how to be a good supervisor and leader would be more important. Employees want you to show dedication to what they are doing. They want you to value their capabilities and help them strengthen their skills; they want to feel your passion about the job. Your employees respect your leadership when you create opportunities for them to learn and grow and generally help them fulfill their goals and objectives. Find out what your employees' unmet needs are and how to make their jobs more meaningful, and you may be considered the best leader they've ever had.

Q. One of the challenges I face in my job as a supervisor is self-doubt. I suspect other supervisors experience the same issue, too. But, you can't let people know you doubt your ability to do the job. How can I better manage this worry?

A. You've cited one of the reasons for the cliché, "It's lonely at the top." There is hardly a supervisor or leader who has not wondered, no matter how briefly, whether he or she will cut it, succeed, or make significant contributions. One important way to begin dealing with this sort of anxiety is by maintaining perspective. You've succeeded in becoming a manager, and naturally that comes with pressure to perform. Take steps to get support. You will find confidential support through Personal Assistance Service (PAS), so don't hesitate to schedule a consultation with counselors at PAS. A counselor can help you find reassurance, resources, and strategies to help you improve your skills and reduce negative self-talk. You can also check the courses and training offered through Learning and Organizational Development. In addition, you can find one-shot, inexpensive, and short courses online that perfectly match the supervision concern you feel needs addressing.

Q. I was promoted to a manager position largely because of my technical skills, but I would like to improve my people skills which are important for my new role. Can Personal Assistance Service help me?

A. You can meet with a Personal Assistance Service staff person to explore your desire to improve your interpersonal skills. When you become more aware of your emotions and identify the emotions of others, you can manage yourself more effectively in relationships. These techniques reflect emotional intelligence skills. These skills can be learned and enhanced with education, awareness, exercises, and practice. Some of these behaviors can be challenging to learn if they require identifying and removing long-term ways of thinking. Short-term, goal-focused counseling can accelerate your progress. Meeting with a counselor from Personal Assistance Service will allow you to have a more in-depth discussion of emotional intelligence and how it applies to leadership performance. For more information, read "What Makes a Leader?" by Daniel Goleman from the January 2004 Harvard Business Review. It's excellent background for your discussion with a Personal Assistance Service counselor.

Q. Is being "approachable" important for a supervisor? I keep an open-door policy, and I am available anytime. Doesn't this mean I am approachable?

A. Approachability is a valuable strength for a manager and usually means he or she is an effective communicator. Being approachable increases the likelihood of reducing risks to the organization and of solving problems sooner because employees are more willing to come to you with issues and concerns before those concerns become worse.

Approachability is closely associated with two other skills-vulnerability (openness) and authenticity. Employees are naturally attracted to these personality traits, and they directly influence your reputation, likeability, and the appearance that you are approachable. Typically, these traits are also associated with warmth, patience and the willingness to respect employees' views, collaborate with them, and be a good listener. Do you struggle with any of these traits or skills? If so, there may be room to become more approachable. Personal Assistance Service can help because these skills can be taught or the traits can be acquired.

Q. Is there an "attitude" about supervision that you recommend supervisors adopt? By attitude, I mean a framework or model that reduces distress in supervision relationships and makes them more collaborative.

A. Many supervisors visualize the role of supervisor as "unidirectional," or one way. The supervisor is "directing" and the employee is acting on that direction. An alternative way of viewing the supervisor/employee relationship is that it's "bidirectional." Employees need you as much as you need them. You have a need for job satisfaction as much as your employee does. Similarly, you have a need to achieve career goals as does your employee. This orientation to supervision will make your relationships with employees more cooperative and productive. Most supervisors want to guide employees, maximize their productivity, and help them develop and feel rewarded for the good work they do. But it is important to see yourself as teaming up with your employee. "How can we cooperate with each other?" or "What do we need to work on to achieve results together?" is a proactive orientation to supervision. Supervisors with this perspective experience more cooperation from employees, less stress, and more joy in their work.

Valuing and Motivating Employees

Q. This year, I am on a mission to get my employees more engaged. If I do this right, what are some benefits I am likely to see? Also, can PAS help me with this project? It's not about counseling employees, but perhaps PAS's "people knowledge" can assist me.

A. Yes, talk with PAS. PAS can help you find ways to get your employees more engaged and motivated about work. There are many studies that look at ways supervisors can improve job satisfaction for their employees. The most significant return on your investment of energy with this project will be employees who are willing to do more than expected, are more productive, and get along better with each other. You may also see improvement in attendance, fewer sick days, and higher morale. Hint: Research shows that you will make a big impact by listening to their opinions, being clear in what you ask and expect from them, and recognizing their contributions both privately and in front of peers.

Q. Our work unit is participating in a three-part workshop on diversity awareness in a couple of weeks. A few employees are grumbling about being asked to participate, but isn't this training an appropriate activity for a diverse work group?

A. The 21st-century workplace is increasingly diverse, and where organizations or employees fail to appreciate the business case for diversity, they risk lower profits, conflicts, higher turnover, and loss of customer loyalty. An additional concern is the domino effect of employee biases potentially becoming prejudices that then damage morale. Diversity awareness gives organizations a fighting chance to improve the cooperation between employees and instill the mutual positive regard critical to workplace harmony. Diversity awareness is not about forcing employees to change their beliefs, which is what will make employees grumble. Instead, diversity awareness is about understanding the critical role of respect and how important it is to value every worker, even with their differences, so job satisfaction is more likely.

Q. How to engage employees is important, but I think the missing piece is making sure they know what they are doing, how they will be measured, and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. In other words, clarity and purpose. Am I right?

A. Yes you are. To highlight your point, Jim Moran, professor of Business Administration at Florida State University's College of Business studied the issue of employees who are kept in the dark about their full purpose, and especially what they were accountable for doing. In his study of 750 workers, both white- and blue-collar, incredibly, less than 20 percent really felt certain they knew what was expected of them each day at work. Employees who are uncertain about their jobs showed 60 percent less trust of leadership. They also experienced 50 percent more frustration overall. They had 40 percent higher workloads. And 33 percent of these employees with an ambiguous understanding------ of their jobs were more likely to look for another job and slack off. Obviously, these issues point to engagement problems. Source: Press release. Go to (Search: "Left in dark")

Q. As a manager, how can I help promote a positive workplace and champion diversity.

A. Get a lay of the land by taking time to observe the work environment for several weeks. Make it a conscious effort. This will produce insight and help you focus more specifically on how you might engage employees. Discuss your observations with your own manager, and you might consider consulting with Personal Assistance Service. You will discover that your best resource for demonstrating the value of diversity is you—that is, your modeling of appropriate and validating behaviors. Observe employee interactions, lack of interaction, how employees group or isolate themselves, types of communication, body language, and social interactions. Consider reading the book “Cultural Competence for Public Managers.” The book is a rich source of information, ideas, and direction. The supervisor is a powerful agent for influencing change, and one person can make a difference.

Q. What is a fear-based workplace? What warning signs should I look for and what steps can I take to ensure a more productive work environment?

A. A fear-based workplace is one marked by significant anxiety, insecurity, and trepidation by employees whose productivity is a result of motivation driven by fear, rather than what they might gain or achieve. Fear-based workplaces are usually characterized by toxic relationships that flourish, with drama, infighting, turf wars, and warring over resources, money, or power. Most workplaces don’t remain fear-based very long before a crisis erupts and an opportunity for change appears. At the supervisory level, you can prevent the inception of a fear-based workplace by 1) encouraging work-life balance; 2) keeping open communication among employees to help shut down rumors; 3) encouraging collaboration among employees; 4) not making everyone only “live by the numbers,” but also recognizing humanistic and intangible forms of success; 5) encouraging information sharing and decision making; and 6) communicating with the ranks. Don’t make decisions mysteriously in unexplained closed-door meetings.

Q. What are the most important skills for me as a supervisor to help my staff develop into strong team players? Can Personal Assistance Service be a resource for me in being more effective with these skills?

A. The relationship with employees is your most important “tool” for helping them grow into productive and satisfied workers. Being a good reviewer and evaluator, along with knowing how to provide feedback, are some of the most effective skills to enable this. To do these things well, 1) create an environment where employees expect feedback. 2) Train employees to do self-assessments well so they challenge themselves. 3) Know what you want to measure, and don’t keep it a secret. 4) Encourage your employees to come to you early with concerns, and praise them for it with a welcoming attitude. Recognize this is one of the most powerful yet underappreciated dynamics of effective supervision. 5) Think about how you want each of your employees to develop based on his or her temperament and skills. 6) Always plan to give feedback, even if it’s for a minute, so it is given effectively and well-received. 7) Use Personal Assistance Service to help you develop and enhance your relational skills in any of the above areas.

Q. I am a new supervisor. I am sure there will be many challenges, but with all the different personalities of employees I supervise, how can I best help each one perform to his or her peak?

A. Understanding that each of your employees will see you differently, will relate to you differently, and will need different things from you is the place to start. Many managers make the mistake of seeing their employees as “the troops.” As such, they communicate with them as though they are soldiers in a barracks waiting for orders. Take the opposite approach. It takes time, but over months and years, pay attention to how your employees are unique in five key ways: 

  1. Communication style and needs 
  2. Career goals, hopes, dreams, education desires
  3. Motivation triggers and reward preferences
  4. Limitations, avoidances, and dislikes
  5. Leadership and problem-solving capacity

There are more, but these five hit most of the bases. Growing to understand each one will help maximize employee job satisfaction and productivity. 

Q. What are the best ways to help employees feel appreciated and motivated if extra money isn't available? Unfortunately, I need every employee to pull his or her weight, even if we don't have extra money in the budget.

A. The following things tend to have a lasting impact on motivating employees to give their best to the job:

  1. Periodically praising the employee.
  2. Keep the employee aware of and included or involved in organizational matters that concern his or her job.
  3. Keep your eyes open for things the employee does well and make a positive comment about them. (This is called "catching the employee doing something right.") Use the same moment to ask your employee how things are going, and whether he or she needs anything from you to do his or her job.
  4. Give an assignment or project that by its nature shows how much you trust the employee with something important or significant.

These four strategies combined will cause an employee to feel appreciated more than almost any other approach.

Q. I like the concept of "management by wandering around." I read about it in a textbook, but I think employees don't like a supervisor who sneaks around in the workplace. Should I let employees know when I am coming? I think anything less will undermine trust.

A. Management by wandering around is a supervision technique that is designed to be random or unpredictable. The idea is to better gauge work processes, issues, and problems by showing up unexpectedly. Letting employees know that you see value in this practice and will adopt it as a supervisory modality, however, would prepare them to be less annoyed when you show up unannounced. Certainly there are employees who do not like surprise visits from wandering management, but what they would resent more is you not showing concern about work operations, their day-to-day work experience or what ideas they have about improving the work product or environment. To make this practice more effective and less intrusive, create a tradition of doing it regularly, and engage with employees along the way by listening to their complaints, ideas, and recommendations for improving productivity. Nearly all employees have some helpful ideas. They'll feel heard, and you and your employees will both see value in the practice of management by wandering around. For more information about Management by Wandering you might want to read this article on Mind Tools.

Q. I support an inclusive workforce, but I worry my older employees are more likely to burn out, struggle, resist new technologies, possibly have more illnesses, or get along poorly with younger supervisors. Should I be concerned?

A. There is plenty of research that demonstrates that these stereotypes do not hold up to experience. Older workers often get high marks for loyalty, reliability, and having a deeper network of contacts than younger workers who often must attend to and balance many more work-life demands. Older workers, because of their experience, may also understand much more about leadership, the doctrine of completed staff work, proper delegation of assignments, communication and relationship development, teamwork, listening, and the problem-solving process. In addition, they often have better writing skills. These days, workers of all ages have been exposed to technology. Workers in their 60s right now have used computers for decades. Understanding old technology makes it easier to understand newer technology. Developmental psychology tells us that the older we get, the more we are motivated by giving back; therefore causes that support the community and passing on knowledge to others are key values for older workers. You can learn more from the 2010 book, Managing the Older Worker, by Peter Cappelli, which is available at most online bookstores.

Q. I am an energetic person, and I have a positive personality. I would like my energetic and positive style of working to rub off on the employees that I supervise. Other than staying enthusiastic and sincere, how can I inspire employees to maximize their performance?

A. Assume that each of your employees is capable of exceptional achievements. This will positively affect your attitude and interactions with them. Your current style of leadership is setting a great example, but good communication is also crucial. Let everyone know what's going on within the organization and the importance of their role in the big picture. Cite successes, trends, and opportunities. Be realistic, but let employees know what awaits them personally and as a team for achieving goals. Keep a check on your emotional and behavioral "pulse," as you work to inspire your employees. The challenge of inspiring others to work at their maximum can sometimes be stressful and result in one needing to replenish his/her energy level. Consider Personal Assistance Service as one resource for helping you think of creative ways to re-charge your own "battery," so that you can continue being an energetic and positive person.

Q. How can I be the kind of supervisor who inspires employees? I am not the charismatic type. What communication skills or abilities are necessary?

A. It is not necessary to be charismatic in order to inspire your employees. You can learn how to help them be energetic, vibrant, moved to produce, willing to engage, and anxious to demonstrate that they are reliable, trustworthy, and loyal. Does that sound like a tall order? Start first by modeling and being an inspired leader. Let your employees see your excitement. If you are full of energy, it will be much easier to have it rub off on them. Tell your employees about your vision, your hopes for the work unit, and what excites you about the future. Let your employees know what a great job they're doing. Tell them how important their contributions are to the mission. Point out their strengths when you see them. Remain attentive to your employees' needs and meet with them often enough to know what those needs are. Go to bat for your employees and never have them thinking, "He (she) doesn't know how tough we've got it." Instead, actually spend some time performing your employees' jobs so you understand their challenges. Set high standards and serve your employees. In return, they'll then serve the organization. You might also check to see what courses or workshops are offered by Learning and Organizational Development to assist you in your goal of being a supervisor who inspires their employees.

Q. I am trying to do a better job at delegating work. Are there any important points about delegating assignments to employees that help ensure work will be done with superior results?

A. When supervisors delegate, they often neglect a few key points needed to make delegation a process of growth, not just an assigned task. Your goal in delegating is to get work accomplished and also to expand your employee's capabilities. There are several key steps to follow to ensure that these goals are met. It is okay to monitor progress, but avoid micromanaging. To help ensure better delegation, follow these guidelines:

  1. explain the assignment and what you anticipate as a successful or satisfactory outcome;
  2. explain the importance of the assignment to the organization, its bottom line, and how your employee will grow from the experience;
  3. monitor to show an interest in the outcome, but monitor less on the details of the project, and
  4. make sure your employee has everything needed to produce the expected outcome.

Q. Our employees seem to be very tolerant of each other's differences. Isn't that the goal for a diverse workplace?

A. Truly valuing diversity goes much further than tolerating someone else who is different so they feel accepted. The world of work is becoming increasingly global and interdependent. This has made it imperative for organizations to understand and promote acceptance of diverse workforces. When employees value diversity, they are inclined to be more respectful of others. A valued and diverse workforce has employees who feel accepted and more positive about their jobs, which leads to more productive employees and lower turnover costs.

Q. Can I create a work culture where employees are passionate and excited about what we do, or is this an individual attribute like "charisma" that is out of my control? I would love to know the secrets of having a high-energy group of engaged employees on the job.

A. You can set the stage for a passionate and positive work culture, but ensuring that it happens is less certain. One commonsense idea is consider an individual's passion for their work when hiring. Their competence is important, but the energy they display is equally important. Put these individuals in key posts so they help influence others in a positive way through their example. You can also use effective communication to help employees bond. Manage conflicts between employees with efficiency, and you'll reap more positive outcomes from them. When difficult employees and employees with personal problems demonstrate performance issues, consult with Staff and Labor Relations and Personal Assistance Service as resources to resolve these issues. Passionate people in workplaces have fun because energy "spills" into spontaneity and authentic relationships. These relationships naturally translate into more energy invested into their work. Be sure to recognize, praise, and reward those who go the extra mile. Keep your employees in touch with the big picture, the dream, and the department or organizational goals. Finally, expect and promote a respectful workplace as relationships emerge and develop.

Q. How can I help my employees find more meaning and fulfillment in their jobs?

A. Your employees are no doubt thankful for the security of having a job and benefits, but any employee who feels unfulfilled will experience frustration. At Duke, we are fortunate to work at an institution where we can help advance education, research and health care, but not everyone understands how their role contributes to these missions. As a manager, you can help your employees understand how what they do contributes to your department's success, and how your department contributes to Duke's success. Every person makes a difference in helping Duke achieve its missions.

But sometimes people may not be fully using their skills and talents in their current roles. You can encourage employees who demonstrate frustration to identify what things they love to do, and then discuss whether their current job functions could be tweaked to meet those needs. Personal Assistance Service can help your employees with this examination of needs. Additionally, the Professional Development Institute is another resource for employees who have concerns about career direction and career growth. Many employees fear growing old and never having a job that will make a difference in the world. This need can sometimes be achieved in other ways. The task is to discover it.

Q. Over the years, I have heard that money is not a good long-term motivator for employees, and that a better motivator is praise, recognition, and commendation? Are there any studies or reports to support this?

A. A 2009 survey by McKinsey Quarterly asked which incentives were the most effective in motivating employees. The top two responses were: "Praise and commendation from my immediate manager" (67 percent) and "Attention from leaders" (62 percent). This is strong evidence that development of praise and commendation skills can have an impact on the bottom line. Of course, there is more to it than simply telling supervisors to praise employees more. Giving praise comes easily for some supervisors but not others. In most instances, it is not that supervisors don't want to give effective praise; instead, the issue is that they don't know how or don't feel comfortable doing so. Common statements heard from supervisors who struggle with giving praise are that it takes too much time. It feels insincere, or that offering praise doesn't fit their personality. These statements of resistance have solutions, and PAS is an excellent resource for supervisors to discover those solutions. For more information about the survey, visit:

Q. Is there a method or approach to inspiring employees? When I think of employees being inspired, I think of them as motivated. Are feeling inspired and feeling motivated the same thing?

A. All inspired employees are motivated, but not all motivated employees necessarily feel inspired. Often, the two terms are used interchangeably, but a closer look reveals important differences. An employee can be motivated to accomplish work as a result of being provoked, aggravated, goaded, or annoyed into productivity. On the other hand, employees who feel inspired are moved internally, feel enthused about work accomplishments and are infectious in their excitement. To inspire employees, set a stretch goal, discuss its implications for everyone, remind workers of their past triumphs, and ask them to reflect on what drove them to achieve successful outcomes in the past. Help set their sights on a goal that is exciting and potentially rewarding so they really want to achieve it. Finally, help them visualize what it will feel like to achieve the goal.

Q. What is the most powerful way that I can help employees feel valued?

A. Not feeling appreciated is a key reason employees quit jobs. This is why employee recognition is so important. Supervisors play an important role in this process. Don't rely solely upon organization programs to do all the "thanking." Engage in this practice and develop it as a skill. Learn how to make it effective. When you model giving praise, it helps create an atmosphere where peers are more likely to praise each other. Also learn how to personalize praise by making it specific and detailed, which has more positive impact. Thanking employees isn't just good for them; it also reinforces behaviors you want repeated. Never hesitate to ask your employees how they like to be thanked, and do not minimize your role in praising an employee for a solid effort. Overdoing it is harder than you think. Often employees complain, "I never get a thank-you from my boss." Don't let that be you.