Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Occupational Stress 4: New Job, New Role, New Stress

Occupational Stress 4

“A beginning is a time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct”
Frank Herbert, Dune

New on the job or working with a new hire? The greatest job strain at such a time comes from the occupational stress domain referred to as Role Ambiguity, or the new-kid-on-the-block syndrome. This will affect the newly hired, recently transferred, or just promoted employee, regardless of his or her level in the organization. Role Ambiguity consists of: uncertainty of job expectations, tasks, and priorities; how evaluations are conducted; and finally, how the new hire will get his or her needed training and supervision. I’ve heard countless Role Ambiguity horror stories, all the way from top-level management down to entry level specialists. Much of this stress can be avoided (or at least greatly reduced) with a little planning and a few action steps.
So, what to do? If you are in a supervisory position, schedule regular times for feedback sessions and structure these sessions so that you and your supervisee aren’t wasting time reviewing what you both already know. The new person may not even be sure of your expectations. Have a list of priorities ready and engage in a semi-structured discussion that includes issues such as goals and objectives; expected problems, procedures, protocols, expectations and the most appropriate actions steps to take. Early in the game, make sure that the new hire knows how he or she will be evaluated (i.e. by whom, and by what criteria). This is easier said than done. In today’s business environment of floating teams, interdepartmental contributors, diverse stake holders, and off-site projects, both hierarchy and priorities can be confusing. With the advent of three hundred and sixty-degree feedback, trying to figure out who is evaluating whom might be more difficult to tease out than a wookie on a bad hair day. This gets especially hairy (this wookie analogy is working out better than I thought!) if you have several managers across different departments using different criteria for their evaluations, some of which may apply only tangentially to your person. Make your goals and objectives clear so you don’t have someone else meeting their priorities on your dime. Does this sometimes happen? Believe it or not, yeah!
Remember, as a new supervisor you are also a new mentor. The mentor's attitude should reflect to a healthy degree some shared responsibility for his or her supervisee. Not only do you need to be available, but you need to arrange for the supervisee to get the outside training and counsel they need. Often when a new person stumbles or fails, it’s due to a lack of training. Mature managers can sometimes take for granted the resources he or she has in terms of connections and networks, all of which are inaccessible to the new guy. Additionally, the supervisee is usually unaware of the importance of your prior networking and connections.
Jack Walsh said that if two different people fail in the same job, change the job. In the case of a new hire replacing a failed employee, part of changing the position involves changing the context, orientation, and environment in which the new hire operates. These goals cannot be met unless it is your intention to improve upon what is no longer working.
Role Ambiguity is a well-researched domain of occupational stress (I’ve done some this research myself). It’s real, and costly if not attended to. It helps to be aware that the cost of replacing an employee equals approximately twenty-five percent of their salary. The best way to address Role Ambiguity is quickly and aggressively. Remember, poor performance and rapid departmental turnover doesn’t make anyone look good.

Ian

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