Managers Are a Prime Cause of Workplace Interference — Here Are 4 Ways They Can Change That

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“Interference” is a lot more than a call in a football game — it’s anything that gets in the way of progress, whether it be on the field, at home, or at work. And unfortunately, workplace interference is on the rise.

My company, InsideOut Development, recently conducted a study on the topic and found that most employees (61 percent) experience interference at work every day, which keeps them from performing at their highest level. While this would seem to be an individual problem, the collective impact it could have on an organization is huge: If only 40 percent of your workforce is performing at their best, that’s likely to have a significant affect on the bottom line.

What can managers do to reduce this interference? On the one hand, there are many forms of interference managers cannot influence, like the traffic on a morning commute or an employee’s ability to get a full eight hours of sleep each night.

On the other hand, full-time workers say managers are to blame for 38 percent of their interference at work, which suggests managers could help by changing their behaviors in a way that minimizes the barriers to top performance. Here are four ways managers can do just that, according to our survey respondents:

1. Treat Employees Fairly

According to the SCARF model, our behavior in social situations is influenced by five key factors: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and — crucially for our purposes — fairness.

If a person perceives something to be unfair, they’ll feel a sense of disgust — literally. Unfairness activates the insular cortex region of the brain, which is linked to disgust. This is a powerful form of interference, and it can cause a person to overreact or even walk away from their job.

Managers, then, must maximize fairness. Employees should never feel disfavored or excluded on purpose. This can be accomplished in simple ways. For example, regularly going to lunch with the same team member(s) can create the perception that a manager is playing favorites. The manager needs to either communicate an acceptable rationale for their repeated outings or extend an open invitation for other team members to get involved.

2. Provide Growth Opportunities

In a tight talent market with historically low unemployment rates, employers are at greater risk of losing employees than they have been in years. But according to LinkedIn, 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.

Employers that offer their employees opportunities to learn and develop can shore up their retention rates, thereby reducing the interference caused by disengagement and turnover.

Providing growth opportunities doesn’t have to be as complicated or as expensive as paying to send an employee back to school for a graduate degree. Managers can invest in their employees by providing better or more frequent trainings, implementing a mentoring program, and/or giving them projects that make them stretch their current abilities.

For more expert HR insights, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:

3. Help Employees When They Get Stuck

Forty-nine percent of respondents to the InsideOut survey said their managers could reduce interference by “pitching in” when things are hard. As an added bonus, this also presents an opportunity for managers to support employee development.

To best understand when, where, and how to help employees, managers should ask three questions: What’s going well? Where are you getting stuck? What can we do differently?

This approach helps employees identify what’s working, what their specific problems are, and what solutions they have considered already. It also encourages them to try solving problems for themselves before a manager rolls up their sleeves to lend a hand.

4. Coach Employees to Solve Problems

All of the suggestions above provide a solid foundation for coaching employees to solve problems. Of course, the challenge of interference is that it makes it difficult to solve problems in the first place — but that’s why employees can really benefit from a coach. (Research shows that coaching really works!)

One of the simplest and most widely used guides for coaching conversations is the GROW model, which I helped co-create. The GROW model outlines a goal, reality, options, and the way forward. In doing so, it gives the employee a systematic process to follow to overcome most types of interference they will deal with. As employees explore this model with their coaches, they will ultimately learn to use it on their own through self-coaching.

Employees who learn to self-coach develop the ability to overcome their own barriers to progress without having to constantly seek a manager’s help – every manager’s dream. This is because they understand how to take a step back from a problem, identify what kind of interference is keeping them from progressing, and create a new pathway forward.

Interference is a reality, but managers can do a lot to reduce it for their employees. By encouraging fairness, providing opportunities for growth and development, helping employees when they get stuck, and coaching employees to find their own ways forward, managers set their employees up to overcome most causes of interference and truly thrive at work.

Alan Fine is president of InsideOut Development.

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