Building a More Supportive Work Environment
(and Actively Managing Workplace “Toxicity”)
What are the key characteristics of effective leaders, and how do they influence the development of a supportive work environment? What are the factors that drive transformational (or even transcendent) leadership while inhibiting toxic behaviors? How can supervisors and managers become more “emotionally intelligent”, able to navigate a variety of workplace situations to achieve positive results?
Staff Development Coordinator,
The ARC of Allegany County
These are only a few of the questions that drive effective workplace interactions. Effective managing and supervising often includes conducting basic management skills (decision making, problem solving, planning, delegation and meeting management), organizing teams, noticing the need for and designing new job roles in the group, hiring new employees, training new employees, employee performance management (setting goals, observing and giving feedback, addressing performance issues, firing employees, etc.) and ensuring conformance to personnel policies and other internal regulations.
Managing other people is highly rewarding and demanding, and the transition from frontline employee to frontline manager—and leader—is a particular challenge. Here are seven (7) challenges commonly cited by new managers and supervisors. These challenges can be viewed as either positive or negative, depending on your outlook:
1. New Responsibilities. Promoted managers typically had strong technical skills as employees. They knew their job and they did it well. And while these technical skills are important to managers, they become less useful. Promoted managers must perform new tasks, uncover new knowledge, and learn new skills to be successful.
2.Recognizing the Characteristics of Toxicity and Negativity in the Workplace. Toxic employees - true to the name - can poison the business atmosphere and can make it difficult, if not impossible, to work effectively. The toxicity is insidious, and can drag everyone into an abyss of low morale, negative emotions, and decreased productivity. Managers and supervisors need to develop both personal and organizational policy options that can help create a more supportive and productive work environment.
3.Varied Responsibilities. Whereas employees tend to know what they will be doing each day, managers often find themselves being pulled in many different directions, performing tasks they didn’t expect, and making decisions about what to do and when to do it. Some people thrive on this controlled chaos, and some are quickly overwhelmed.
4. Time. Employees typically work their shifts and call it a day. Managers are expected to keep up a hectic pace and keep at it until the job is done. Time is particularly challenging for new managers who tend to spend more time reading, learning, and creating their game plans. New managers are not limited to 8-hour days or 40-hour weeks and receive no overtime pay.
5. Balance. New managers need to find their feet and optimize their balance between technical, administrative, and people tasks. This doesn’t mean managers should spend the same amount of time in each of these areas; it means they should not neglect one for another.
6. Feeling Alone. New managers often feel alienated from other managers and employees. They may feel unsure how to relate to new employees who question their abilities or old coworkers who treat them differently. They may be reluctant to ask questions or admit they need help from their boss or other managers. Moreover, frontline managers are often caught in the middle between supporting company policies and initiatives and supporting the concerns and needs of their employees. It can be a lonely feeling.
7. Personal Wellness. Wellness can be defined as an active process through which people become aware of and make choices for a lifestyle designed to realize one's highest potential for wholeness and well-being. Wellness begins with an awareness of the existence of your individual abilities, accomplishments, limitations, and goals. Wellness can become a state of mind, or, as in the definition above, a more successful lifestyle. Especially in the case of new supervisors, it is more important than ever to pay attention to being healthy. New supervisors and managers (and supervisors and managers generally), may be under more stress, have less time to think about taking care of themselves, and be exposed to new germs and sicknesses at work. Being healthy involves many different parts of your life, including eating well, exercising, resting and relaxing, and being careful about sickness.
The whole idea of “work” is going through a transformation. Supervisors and managers are being challenged by a dynamic, shifting and shrinking workforce. The traditional white, male-dominated workforce is becoming obsolete, with a more diverse workforce made up of females, minorities, the disabled and the elderly taking its place. Managerial training is the answer to effectively managing these changes.
Across the country, many companies have implemented workplace diversity through extensive supervisor training programs. These programs address the importance of understanding each employee and how individual needs differ. With the real threat of a shrinking workforce ahead, employee retention becomes an additional focus. Traditional management styles are not as successful, with the new workforce as the “leader” or “coaching” styles of management. Companies that do not effectively train their supervisors to handle the needs of a variety of people and do not shift their management styles to accommodate the new workforce may struggle to stay afloat.
Closely akin to multicultural diversity is the idea of generational diversity. Sociologists, psychologists, and everyday managers have identified important differences between generations in the way they approach work, work/life balance, employee loyalty, authority, and other important issues. Multigenerational diversity is not new, but for the first time in recent history, the workforce includes four generations of employees: the Veterans (i.e., people born between 1922 and 1943), the Baby Boomers (i.e., people born between 1943 and 1960), the Generation Xers (i.e., people born between 1960 and 1980), and the Nexters--also called Millennials, Generation Y, and Generation Next (i.e. people born between 1980 and 2000). Although these generations share some common values and beliefs, they also exhibit differences stemming from the experiences of their eras. It’s never been more important to understand what values influence today’s segmented populations/generations and how you can best position your products and services to influence these distinct groups.
Exploring and developing emotional intelligence not only makes people happier and more successful, it helps motivate themselves, manage stress more effectively, and resolve conflict with others. It gives supervisors and managers the skills to be able to encourage, comfort, discipline, and confront different kinds of people appropriately in different situations. It determines how effectively people express emotions within the cultural context of their family, their workplace, and their community. It determines how well people listen and how well they are heard.
Developing emotional intelligence skills can be an invaluable resource for supervisors, managers, and anyone who needs to build competencies in their work with individuals, teams, or groups.
A critical skill for anyone is the ability to manage his or her own learning. In today's rapidly changing workplace, learning is more important than ever before. But many people don't understand how learning takes place and how to manage the process. Supervisors need to know how to analyze their previous learning, design an action plan for future learning, expand their educational opportunities, and use libraries and the Internet effectively in order to become a proactive and perpetual learner.
A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor and guide, someone who is genuinely interested in developing others and has the ability to encourage the supervisor to manage their own learning and development.
Mentoring needs to take place within a relationship of trust, honesty and confidentiality. It is part of the support for an individual new/probationary supervisor and complements learning on the job, formal training, and personal development planning. A mentor will encourage the supervisor to review his or her experiences in order to improve performance, focusing on future performance in the role. Supervisors and others need to better understand the role of the mentor, the purpose of mentoring and how to make the mentoring effective.
Simply put, performance management includes activities to ensure that goals are consistently being met in an effective and efficient manner. Performance management can focus on performance of the organization, a department, processes to build a product or service, employees, etc. Supervisors need to become proficient in a number of areas, including performance goals and plans, observation and feedback, evaluating performance, rewarding performance, recognizing performance problems (gaps), and firing/hiring employees.
Much attention is paid to the skills needed to be an effective supervisor, but less is know about enhancing the working relationship between supervisors and supervisees. The supervisory working alliance refers to the collaboration between supervisee and supervisor for change in the supervisee based on mutual agreement on the goals (e.g., mastery of “counseling” skills) and tasks (e.g., observing counseling sessions) of supervision, as well as a strong emotional bond (e.g., mutual caring, trusting, and respect).
For many busy professionals, reflection on career and life planning focuses much more on career – the getting around, the getting ahead, and the getting things done – and less on life. It is important for people to regularly assess their own needs to ensure that their lives are balanced. This balance is closely related to career success.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a method for studying and changing social systems (groups, organizations, communities) that advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling, thus allowing planned change to occur.
This strength-based approach to organizational development is based on the simple assumption that every system has something that works well, and that these strengths can be the starting point for creating positive action plans and for developing and reaching new goals. The focus is on asking unconditionally positive questions that strengthen an organization’s capacity to comprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential – thereby amplifying the “positive core”.
Appreciative Inquiry is ideally suited for individuals (and organizations) who want to increase their sense of workplace satisfaction, thus becoming key organizational agents for change.
Having an open, safe, and welcoming work environment - one that feels friendly, supportive, and caring - empowers employees to take risks and grow, both personally and professionally – and reduces “toxicity”. Managers and supervisors play an important role in creating a positive and engaging workplace. Effective leaders take the time to really get to know the needs and expectations of their people. Staff members and other employees also share responsibility for making this happen. Together, they create a productive, sustainable, and happy workplace.