As a leader, you walk the tightrope between being available to your employees and focusing on work that has to get done. So, how do you manage the needy employee who seems to always be in your office looking for direction or reassurance?
Identifying a needy employee
Certainly, a positive company culture provides opportunities for your staff to seek input and feedback. And asking questions isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So, when does it go from being a positive experience to a negative one? When do repeated inquiries and interruptions from an employee tip the scales into neediness?
Here are some red flags:
- Constantly checking in
- Always asking if they did things correctly
- Inability to make a move without someone telling them what to do
- Bothering or questioning co-workers in order to complete a task
- Having to repeatedly review instructions or objectives
- Sounding unsure about themselves
- Interrupting managers with small inquiries
- Customers or co-workers saying they don’t want to work with the employee
Why is it happening?
This behavior could stem from a variety of things.
Are they taking on a new role or task?
Oftentimes, superstar employees are given new jobs or additional work. Great, if they’ve been mentored along the way and are ready for the next step. But if they’re asked to sink or swim without any guidance, they’re probably going to ask for a flotation device.
This is a needy employee – and rightfully so. The fault isn’t theirs.
Have they recently been criticized or had a failure?
Getting up and brushing themselves off isn’t always easy for someone whose work has been under scrutiny. Even good employees don’t always hit the mark. So, as you can imagine, there may be times when they need reassurance to get them on the right path.
If they have a fear of failure, address that you’ve seen the behavior and ask how you can support them in moving forward.
Example: “Since this mistake was made, here’s what I’ve seen: You seem to be fearful of making decisions. How do I help you get over that? What do you need to accomplish, and how can I support you in that?”
Do they have a new boss?
It’s natural to be uneasy when there’s a change in supervisors. Your employees will want to know how to work best with and please their new boss. They may be used to working under a different set of rules or with a supervisor whose personality is vastly different from their new superior. That’s where setting expectations comes in. There’s a whole section below on that.
Have there been layoffs?
You can’t ignore the elephant in the room. Layoffs shake work groups to their core. It may be difficult, but you have to address the changes that are going on and do what you can – to the degree you can – to quell their uneasiness. Here’s where you would implement a change management strategy to help your employees during the transition.
Are they not doing well in the job?
It’s not uncommon for employees who aren’t performing well to seek positive reinforcement. Those who are on an improvement plan will be looking for you to tell them, “You’re fine.” But if they’re not on solid ground, don’t gloss over it. Go back to the improvement plan that was developed and reiterate what needs to happen for them to be successful.
Is something going on in their personal life?
If so, you have to tread carefully in this area to ensure their workers’ rights aren’t compromised. You can, however, have a talk to discuss the behavior – without alluding to the reason.
If they mention that there is a personal reason for reassurance, make sure you let them know about help that’s available through your benefits plan, such as an employee assistance program, or EAP. You may want to bring in your human resources specialist in these instances.
Once you identify what’s behind an employee’s neediness, how can you provide them with what they need while still keeping your workflow on track?
1. Set expectations
You think you’re doing a good job: You walk through the work area in the morning, after lunch and before you leave for the day. You nod, maybe exchange pleasantries and come across as a genuinely good boss. That’s nice. But it does nothing for the person who needs face-to-face time – for whatever reason.
So, that employee develops a plan of his own – where he’ll get the time that he craves. He waits for you to settle into your office after you’ve made your morning rounds and then you hear it – the distinct tapping on the already-open door that alerts you to his arrival.
“Just checking in,” he says. But, really, he’s reluctant to start today’s work until you give him a nod of approval on what’s been done the previous day.
Then, after lunch, he pokes his head into your office to get your feedback on what he’s accomplished thus far. In between, you know he’s talking to co-workers about his work – checking with them for feedback and approval. Then, one more stop into your office later in the day just to get your buy-in before moving forward.
It’s too much, and where does it end?
You need to address the behavior head-on. You might say something like, “I notice you’re asking questions and seeking reassurance. Let’s have a meeting on Tuesday to talk about a plan to get you on track for the rest of the week.”
When Tuesday comes around, your written plan should include a schedule that shows regular check-in meetings – say, weekly, for example. Regular meetings allow your needy employee the time he needs to discuss work and other issues he’s facing.
You should use that time to get him on track for the next week: Help determine priorities and plan his work. And, as a matter of course, these regular meetings could be done for all employees – not just for Needy Nick.
But if Nick’s reliance on you and others continues, set a guideline for what is urgent and what can wait; and remind him of the planned check-in time. Promised time helps keep him focused and moving toward that next check-in. It’s also a way to gauge whether the workload is too much, or whether he can do the work being requested.
2. Nip the employee neediness in the bud
The key to developing a good working relationship with needy employees is to develop a human resources plan. From the moment you start the hiring process, your employees should know what’s expected of them, and what they can expect from you.
3. Pay attention during the hiring process
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what a manager does to help break the distractions of a needy employee – it’s just not a good fit. During the hiring process, make sure candidates understand the company’s core values and managers’ leadership style. Are those in line with what the employee needs to be successful? Check references and get a feel for the level of feedback they need. In hiring, describe the coaching culture.
For example, “We have a very hands-on approach” may not work for someone who doesn’t want a lot of feedback. On the other hand, “We don’t have a lot of training time – we hit the ground running” won’t work for someone who requires a lot of mentoring.
Remember, though, managers also need to be adept at adjusting their style to fit the needs of their employees.
4. Provide a good onboarding experience
For new employees, an organized, structured onboarding process sets a foundation of expectations. An onboarding outline puts the employee, manager and trainers on the same page for what is the desired outcome or objective.
If you have checkpoints during the onboarding process with your new employees, it lets you see what training has been done and whether the employee has grasped the concepts. By having an outline and periodic check-ins, you’ll reduce anxiety and neediness from an employee who requires more hands-on management.
5. Schedule one-on-one meetings
After onboarding, continue to have regular check-ins with your employees. If you find they’re entering the needy zone, put a plan down on paper for what they need to do moving forward. Let them know what’s expected. And make sure you’re giving them the tools they need to succeed, such as training, job-shadowing, coaching and performance reviews.
6. Empower them to learn from others
It doesn’t always have to be a manager who leads your needy employees on their path to success. For those who could benefit from working with a mentor, set them up with a senior member of the team. They can get advice on work, and how to succeed and thrive in the environment.
Pro tip: Remember, not all veterans or those who excel in their job enjoy (or are good at) coaching others. Make sure the match is beneficial to both.
7. Check your management style
And finally – although, maybe you should do this first – take a look at your management style.
Are you doing something to contribute to a needy employee’s behavior? For example, do you ask an employee to do something new or challenging, and leave them to determine how to get it done? Did you give them the tools and information they needed to succeed at the start?
Or, do you wait to check in down the road and ask all kinds of questions about why it’s being done a certain way?
Make sure you’re taking time to coach your employees. And don’t be too proud to take a class on how to coach. You’re going to struggle with developing your people if you’re not a good coach. Three characteristics of managers who make the most out of their most valuable asset are: availability, consistency and candidness.
Having a plan for recruiting, retaining and maintaining top talent is key to developing productive employees. When your team knows what’s expected of them and can count on you to help drive their success, you’ll spend less time managing needy employees – which leaves you more time to grow your business.
For more great information about being an effective leader, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management. It’s a quick, easy read full of tips for those at the top.