By Jo Donaldson, Head of Operations, Haseltine Lake Kempner LLP
As a line manager, you have the opportunity to create a positive and supportive work environment for your team. But it can sometimes be hard to know where to start or what to do when you feel things are going wrong. This can feel even more challenging with the introduction of hybrid working for many
Also included are tips for handling common situations.
Requesting a meeting allows you to prepare what you are going to say in advance and ensures you have time and privacy. If you can, check out your manager’s diary and suggest a few dates/times that suit both of you.
We are all aware of the benefits of establishing a good work-life balance and the need to set boundaries to achieve this (see How to set healthy workplace boundaries). But do we think about the standard we set in our teams by our own behaviour?.
Working in the IP sector, we often have to deal with competing demands from across the business. It can sometimes be difficult to maintain our normal processes under this pressure and we can slip into unhealthy patterns, like regularly working extra hours even when not necessary. Line managers will feel this pressure, as will most if not all members of their team.
As a line manager you are often the first point of contact for team members. You may feel comfortable being approached by your team members about any subject or you may not.
Zoe has a good relationship with her team and likes to believe they feel comfortable coming to her with any problem or situation, especially if it is work-related. However, when one of her team members came to her and disclosed that she had been going through a painful cycle of fertility treatment, Zoe felt completely out of her depth. The team member disclosed that after several failed attempts they had finally conceived and had now lost the baby at 11 weeks. The team member was clearly deeply distressed disclosing this but also concerned that they needed to be professional and not bring private problems into work.
Zoe’s initial reaction was of panic that she could not solve the problem, awareness of her own ignorance and feeling deeply sorry for her team member’s distress. She was also aware that dealing with this situation would need longer than the 10 minutes she had before an important meeting. She remembered the importance of active listening as well as calming breathing. Having given the team member space to describe the situation, she explained that she had a meeting to attend shortly but that she would let them know she might be a little bit late. She also suggested they schedule time for them to talk about this at greater length.
In the 15 minutes or so that they had, Zoe was able to give space to talk and encouraged her to stop work for the day and take the rest of the week off, if that would be helpful. They arranged to meet the following week so they could think about what support would be needed. Zoe also gave details of the company EAP in case they would like to talk with a counsellor.
Zoe flagged up that she might need to consult with HR to see what adjustments might be needed but they could look at that some more when they met next and would not do that without consent. She reassured them about confidentiality and that the reason for her absence would not be disclosed to the rest of the team, unless she wanted it to be. At the next meeting, Zoe said that she would need to make a brief record of what had been discussed and any agreed actions, but this would be stored securely and confidentially in line with their company’s data protection guidelines.
Zoe felt a bit wobbly and upset afterwards and made sure that she had a bit of space to herself after the meeting before going back to the rest of the working day.
Zoe was able to reflect that in spite of feeling panic at first, she was able to deal with the situation calmly and compassionately. She also recognised the value of listening carefully, not rushing in with solutions, consulting with others if necessary and the importance of looking after herself as well.