Parent: Setting Limits
Many people view the workplace as an alternate home and the people there as surrogate family members. After all, you spend more waking hours at work than at home or anywhere else. Coworkers are pseudo-siblings or pseudo-spouses. And managers become — you guessed it — pseudo-parents.
Just as you might have to tell your 10-year-old son to stop spitting out the car window, you might need to tell a 32-year-old administrative assistant that she can't swear on the telephone or a 50-year-old sales representative that he can't shave during the morning staff meeting. It seems petty and counterproductive — and sometimes it is. But people push limits just to be sure those limits are still in place. Everyone needs to feel there's a certain level of stability in their lives, and limits allow them to do so.
Just as parents need to set limits and structure at home, managers need to establish boundaries and organization for their employees at work. As a manager, it is your job to tell employees what they can and cannot do.
In the role of parent, you are often training your employees in basic behaviors. This differs from teaching them skills. You might find yourself repeatedly reminding employees to ask clients if there is anything else they can do for them before rushing to the next call, just as at home you might find yourself repeatedly reminding your kids to unball their socks before putting them in the laundry basket.
And your parent role might frequently compel you to reinforce core values and the behaviors that support them, such as prioritizing client requests even when that requires interrupting other work.
A study reported in the February 2000 issue of Entrepreneur magazine found that having managers they could respect ranked at the top of the list of what employees want in their jobs. The survey concluded that the relationship employees have with their managers is a key factor in whether employees stay or leave.
Sometimes being parental also means providing a listening ear. It might mean listening to complaints, even some whining, and being able to listen between the lines to understand the real issues. And sometimes wearing your parent hat means being firm and saying, “Yes, I understand this is a lot to do.”
When you are functioning effectively in your manager-as-parent role, your employees can be expected to do the following:
Know and follow established guidelines and procedures
Understand that there are clear and consistent consequences for stepping outside the boundaries
Accept accountability for meeting project timelines rather than pointing the finger of blame at others if things go wrong
Be comfortable in coming to you with problems or concerns
Respect you, but not fear you
Remember, though, that you are not, of course, really a parent to your employees, and the work group is not really a family. There are important differences, many of which are performance based. Your employees are adults, and they have adult rights and responsibilities.
It does not serve them well, in the long run, for you to make decisions for them as you might for your children. They have been hired to perform specific tasks and accomplish particular goals. You might be wearing your parent hat too long if you find yourself doing any of these things:
You look at the employees sitting in your office airing yet another dispute and realize that if they were younger and shorter, they'd be tattling.
“Nobody told me I had to do that” is a familiar chorus in staff meetings.
Employees ask permission to go to the restroom or take a break.
No assignment gets completed without repeated visits to your office to be sure it's being done right.
You make excuses to your superiors when your employees fail to complete projects either on time or correctly.