By Jared Weitz, founder & CEO of United Capital Source Inc.
A common dilemma for bosses is making sure their employees feel only the right amount of anxiety about their work. Little or no anxiety might cause them to slack off, while too much anxiety might prevent them from thinking clearly. The goal is to find some middle ground where employees understand their responsibilities but are not burdened by fear.
Most bosses and employees, however, would likely agree that this is easier said than done. It's easy to go overboard in either direction. And when a boss does go overboard, it's usually in the "too much" department. Here are three things you can do to make your employees feel less anxious about their work:
1. Share regular feedback.
Feedback is very important for employees who do not have the means to statistically measure their performance on their own. Without regular feedback, such employees have only a vague idea of how they are performing. A lack of feedback is usually associated with satisfactory performance. But far too many people have been fired without previous warning. Their bosses were apparently too busy to provide feedback or just assumed their employees knew that no feedback was actually a bad thing.
Odds are, your employees know better. They might not ask for feedback but would undoubtedly feel a lot more secure if you provided it. Neglecting to provide feedback gives the impression that the employee's superior or client doesn't really care about the quality of their work. In my experience, it never hurts to let employees know you are pleased with their work or are simply on good terms overall. Let's say you have a boss who doesn't speak to you regularly. When the boss finally does decide to speak to you, wouldn't you immediately think it's going to be that "talk" every employee is afraid of?
2. Emphasize long-term goals for some.
Most articles about performance metrics stress the importance of short-term goals. The value of many employees, however, cannot be measured by weekly or monthly quotas. These employees are essentially long-term investments. Their greatest contributions will take place over longer periods of time and might not be directly associated with revenue. Yes, they have short-term tasks that must be completed, but it's the gradual accumulation of their various responsibilities that makes them truly valuable.
This induces anxiety if the value of almost every other employee can be accurately assessed through short-term goals. What if the boss is assessing all employees based on this scale? So, for employees whose true value comes from long-term contributions, consider placing equal (if not more) emphasis on long-term goals. Instead of asking about short-term goals, check that these employees are making good progress toward what they are expected to achieve in six months to a year. They will be comforted by the knowledge that their boss understands where their greatest contributions come from.
3. Take the 'I' out of discipline.
If you work in a highly competitive industry, your employees are probably already anxious about their jobs or the survival of their companies. Giving them anything else to worry about would, therefore, bring their anxiety levels to excessive. You can prevent this by refraining from informing your employees that, in addition to your customers/clients, their mistakes are an inconvenience for you. Using phrases like "I'm tired of ___" or " ___ is getting on my nerves" will likely not increase motivation. Would you want to please someone who uses this type of language? If anything, employees will be so afraid of your temper that they won't be able to perform to the best of their abilities.
I personally recommend minimizing disciplinary language in general. Hard-working employees don't need an extensive description as to how frustrated you are about their mistakes. A brief explanation of why they shouldn't make the same mistake again and/or how to avoid it is just fine. I've found that this is a more effective way to increase motivation, possibly because it makes employees grateful to have a boss who is not an unnecessarily harsh disciplinarian.
This is the real investment.
Anyone who is skeptical about the benefits of reducing employee anxiety should remember how often successful entrepreneurs mention investing in employees. They aren't just referring to outrageous perks and state-of-the-art equipment. Investing in your employees means doing whatever you can to make them feel confident and comfortable. Excessive anxiety is a burden to either characteristic, so it's up to you to invest your time in removing it.
Jared Weitz is founder & CEO of United Capital Source Inc.