I’m relatively new to a managerial position; I’ve been in my role for around two years. I was promoted from the ranks and am now leading a team that I was a member of when I first came to the company. This has created some interesting challenges—some I’ve overcome, others remain a work in progress.
My latest battle is the battle of the breaks. The company provides two paid break periods, 15 minutes each, in the morning and afternoon for all team members. At least half of the people on my team regularly—I mean twice a day, every day—help themselves to an extra 10 minutes, extending their breaks to 25 minutes each.
These breaks are a perk that is not mandated by any award or law. I feel annoyed that people abuse this privilege with such audacity. I have tried every tactic I can think of to keep my team on track with their breaks—carrots, sticks; you name it, I’ve tried it. They mend their ways for a few days but soon fall into bad habits again.
I’m at my wits’ end – how do I get them to stop chatting and get back to work? Please help.
At the Breaking Point
Dear At the Breaking Point,
I can appreciate how truly frustrating this situation is. It is really, really hard to go from being a peer to being a supervisor, as anyone who has done it will tell you.
I am pretty sure you were the one chosen to be manager because you were the most diligent and well behaved. Of course, these are the exact traits that make it easy for your former peers to torture you. Let’s stop making it so easy for them.
First, some questions. What exactly is the result of them taking these longer break times? What is not getting done? Are quotas suffering? Are clients being ignored? Are you being sanctioned by your boss? Other than you being driven insane by the disrespect, what is the problem?
I hate to be the one to tell you, but you have become the entertainment. Because you are hyper-focused on the misbehavior of your people and on your own annoyance, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they were doing it on purpose to see what kind of a rise they can get out of you. Maybe they are even taking bets and keeping score on who can push the envelope the furthest.
I am going to take your word that you have tried everything, because that means you’ll be ready to try the radical tactic I am going to propose.
Stop the cycle of you being the cross nanny who catches the children doing something wrong. Just stop. Stop paying attention to the breaks. Look away.
Instead, pay attention to the work that needs to get done. Pay attention to how people are stepping up and adding value. As Ken Blanchard so eloquently says, focus on “catching people doing things right.” Now, I can feel your blood pressure rising at the mere thought of this. As a card carrying control enthusiast myself I can seriously relate. But the more you try to control people, the more they will assert their God-given right to resist you.
I guarantee that once you take your attention off of the break shenanigans, the energy will change. Once that shift in dynamic has happened, you can gather a couple of folks you respect and ask them for feedback on the break times and what it would take for people to respect the guidelines. Once you figure that out, ask them to help solve whatever the real problem is. If it is really just you being annoyed, then the problem has been solved.
If you treat people like ten-year-olds, they will behave like ten-year-olds. Instead, treat them like the adults they are and harness their wisdom. You clearly care deeply about the organization and about fairness. I hope they know how lucky they are to have you.
It is time to step up from being a clock-watching supervisor to being a leader. You will get much better performance from your people and your health will improve.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!