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Struggling employees need help, support

Columnist Dave Conrad says becoming a mentor is a win-win for everyone.

Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug
Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug

Dear Dave: I have had a good career and I intend to retire in about five years. Though there have been many bumps and bruises along the way, I have learned many things about people, working productively, and – most of all – staying positive despite the hardships I faced. There are a couple of new people in our department who are floundering and are having a hard time doing their work. I want so much to help them, but my boss is the type of guy who believes people should “make it or get out.” How can I help these people without getting fired myself? -- C

It is quite clear that your heart is in the right place, and you hate to see people struggle. I agree with you -- most of us feel great anguish when we see others having difficulty doing the work they were hired to do. And, as I always seem to do, I blame your boss for hiring these people, but not training them well and serving as a source of help for their performance challenges.

So many people are working from home these days and the numbers of “cyber workers” will only grow. When I think of these remote workers, I envision some who understand what they are doing, so they perform well. However, I also envision legions of remote workers who not only are having difficulty with their work, they don’t even understand what they are supposed to be doing every day. How sad is that?

On top of these performance problems, we can add the fact that these workers don’t know where to go for help because their bosses have told them repeatedly that they do not want any weaklings who cannot “cut it.” Consequently, they either quit or get fired. I am using remote workers as an example, but these same problems happen in the office or on the shop floor.

I believe that education is all we really have to solve our problems and – in your situation – the problem is a lack of education. Just because someone is hired does not mean they are ramped up and ready to go. New workers, and even veteran workers, run into work performance problems – both in their ability to do the right things right and in their ability to stay mentally tough and resilient every day.

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All of us come up against work performance challenges and – whether we realize it or not – we look around for supportive hands and minds that will help us better understand our tasks and boost our emotional wellbeing.

Help those that need help most

I would reassess your belief that your boss will not welcome help being given to struggling coworkers – he may be more receptive than you think. Your coworkers need help – pure and simple. So, you must determine what you need to say to your boss and how you want to come across to him. Timing is often everything, but I would not wait to talk to your boss about what you see.

And I would make it clear that your aim is to be helpful, and you would not say anything if you didn’t believe your boss would take the conversation in the right way. In short, try to relate that you believe your boss is someone who believes in the people that work for him and will take measures to help those that need help. Some may call this false flattery; I call it tact and diplomacy.

If you have the time, ask your boss if you can become a mentor to a couple of workers. Emphasize that assisting them will not take you away from performing your own work responsibly and effectively. On a larger scale, if a system of mentoring can be organized in the department, think about how much help can be given those that need it. And I would tell your boss that you believe he would look innovative and resourceful to his bosses. Hopefully, that would “seal the deal.”

We grow by helping others grow. Sell the value of mentoring to your boss and take the right steps to make it successful. Becoming a mentor will teach you how to bring out the best in others. In turn, it will bring out the best in you.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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