Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues - everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I'm a brand new manager and I've realized that I've made a mistake: I created a new blanket policy that my employees hate, when I could have just addressed matters with the small number of employees who were causing a problem.
The situation was this: My employees take breaks and lunches at their desk. This leads to a lot of discussion throughout the day. I manage a call center, so a lot of discussion not on calls can be disruptive to others, especially when you're dealing with a couple of employees who tend to be loud. So to create a quieter environment, I set forth the rule that no one can take breaks and lunches at their desks any longer. My staff hates this rule because there is no cell reception in the break room or bathrooms and our conference room stays very cold.
In hindsight, I feel that maybe this rule was too extreme, and perhaps I should've just asked people to be mindful of the fact that others are trying to conduct business around them.
Can I backtrack on this rule without losing the respect of employees?
Well, first, good for you for reconsidering this instead of digging in and defending your stance, which is what a lot of managers in your shoes might have done.
One of the best things you can do if you want the respect of your employees is to admit when you're wrong. Think about your experience with your own bosses -- who did you respect more, the ones who were open-minded and could admit mistakes, or the ones who refused to acknowledge that they might occasionally get it wrong?
In fact, managers who won't admit mistakes actually undermine their own authority, because they come across as insecure. When you're secure in your position and your authority, you're comfortable acknowledging mistakes and correcting your course. When you're not very secure in it, you tend to feel you have to defend it at all costs, and that leads to all kinds of bad things, like heavy-handedness with policies.
Why not say this to your employees: "You know, in an attempt to resolve one problem, I created another. I was trying to address the noise problem, but this isn't the right solution. Let's talk about what could work better to fix the noise issue, while still letting people have somewhere to eat lunch and take their breaks." Then talk to them and come up with a better solution, which may indeed just be setting the clear expectation that people not make a lot of noise in areas where others are working, and then dealing with people individually if they don't abide by that.
Also, use this experience to think about how you want to handle managerial edicts in general. Set out some principles for yourself for the future: For instance, decide that you won't come up with rules for the group when simply talking to a few people would solve the problem. And before you implement any new policy, think about what the downsides might be, and decide if they're worth it.
Don't see your role as being the cop of your employees. Yes, you have to set standards and ensure things are functioning well, but you're not there to police people. If you find that you have to, then you either have a performance problem on your staff, or, if it's widespread, a larger cultural/structural problem in your set-up. But start by assuming you're managing reasonable adults who should be treated as such.
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