Playground Rules in the Workplace

Imagine you take all of your staff to the playground today, so everyone can get a little sunshine and much-needed vitamin D while they work. Each employee brings their workload with them and takes a seat on one of the teeter-totters. Do they all get to swing freely in the air, while balancing a manageable workload, or do some stay stuck on the ground buried in paperwork while others hang idly in the air?

Some employees will complain about being overworked no matter how busy they truly are (and how much time they’re actually spending on Facebook), while others will silently suffer under the crushing weight of unmanageable expectations. And several members of your team may not be accessing their full potential because they haven’t been given enough challenging work to do.

Let’s try to even out the score: make it a policy to check in at every meeting and have each employee give a brief run-down of what they’re working on and how it’s progressing. The idea isn’t to berate them for not getting more done–it’s to see if they’re having serious challenges and need help. (If they’re slacking, the check-in will naturally provide motivation for them to step up because they won’t want to look bad in front of the team.)

The key is to end the meetings when–and only when–at least one person has asked for help, and at least one person has offered help. When the whole team witnesses these interactions, it becomes more natural to ask for support without the risk of looking incompetent. If it’s an expected behaviour, employees will do it more often and build greater camaraderie and trust with each other, as long as they aren’t taking advantage of the system.

You should also be meeting with employees individually as much as possible, for informal and formal check-ins and evaluations, to see how they’re managing their workload. Encourage them to be honest, and be open to hearing feedback that may point to unrealistic expectations on your part. On the other hand, if you know for a fact that they have enough time to get their work done (because you’ve done their job, or other employees have managed it easily), give them some pointers on time-management and make your expectations clear.

Expecting your staff to silently manage their workload and assuming they’ll ask for help when they need it is a mistake that I once made, and I’ll never do it again. I had a manager whom I trusted implicitly, and allowed her to take on several tasks that I’d been doing. One day she forgot to do a crucial task that ended up costing me thousands of dollars, and she tearfully confessed afterwards that she’d been feeling tired and overwhelmed by her job. I had no idea, and I blame myself for that. She never said anything, so I assumed she was fine. And you know what they say about what happens when you assume… yeah. Don’t do that.


5 Responses to Playground Rules in the Workplace
  1. Yanni
    March 22, 2012 | 8:42 pm

    In my work, there is required blend of teamwork and individual tasks, with it all working towards a defined goal (and sometimes, not so define). At the same moment, a shared understanding is: no one is more crucial than anyone else, yet everyone plays an important role in a successful completion.

    With that said, it is a difficult balance between giving peers the room to work separately and interact as necessary, and being aware of when guidance or support is needed…and, as you mention, it is not always vocalised or requested.

    The key [and hidden secret] is being able to create a work environment of challenge & growth, shared support systems, honesty & openness, clear direction & goals, and awareness of peer knowledge (whom to ask, or where to seek assistance). This seemingly impossible combination just makes my head hurt.

    So, Natalie, I can’t wait to hear more thoughts on this complex weave of personalities, responsibilities, and abilities? Does anyone else have any insights?

    • Yanni
      March 22, 2012 | 9:05 pm

      (please excuse the bad grammar…tiny edit windows not conducive to proper language)

  2. Vickie
    March 26, 2012 | 2:40 pm

    Just wanted to let you know I really liked this post and I’ll be pinning this on my pinterest!
    Vickie recently posted..Fire Smoke AlarmsMy Profile

  3. AizzaMarie
    March 27, 2012 | 3:57 am

    Actually, there are a lot of rules when it comes to workplaces..Teamwork is really important and we are all aware with it…Thank you for your awesome post here…
    AizzaMarie recently posted..GoPro HD HERO CameraMy Profile

  4. Procurement Books
    May 6, 2012 | 3:48 am

    A very generous article to those in need of real insights in the workplace. If you’re the boss, it’s proper that you keep track of your people. You should never assume that they are efficient every minute of every day. There might be some issues that they might be taking on without your knowledge and this might really affect their performance. Lend an ear from time to time so that you may understand what needs to be modified as the tasks flow.

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