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Is Everything Okay?
Talented and productive colleagues sometimes take a left turn toward mediocrity and sub-par work without any plausible explanation.
Seemingly out of the blue, these normally hard-working team members are showing up late and taking shortcuts to get work done quickly. One moment they are highly responsible, and then all of a sudden, they’re shrugging off feedback. They refrain from doing anything they aren’t required to do.
Massive shifts in attitudes can be a sign of many things. Leaders often demand an answer for unexpected behavior, even before insisting on a return to normal high levels of performance.
By directly confronting a dramatic shift in performance or attitude, leaders hope to stop the free fall of a team member who has seemingly lost their equilibrium.
This direct approach seems like the best course of action and most leaders take it — on many occasions, to their embarrassment.
Drastic shifts in performance often have an underlying cause unrelated to the workplace. When colleagues experience tragedy or deep worry elsewhere in their lives, it can have a debilitating effect on how they perform in the workplace.
Not surprisingly, colleagues are reluctant to offer up their personal troubles as excuses, so when admonished for a change in behavior, they often take it in silence and vow to do better tomorrow.
Unaware that the colleague has a significant health issue or is experiencing a recent loss of a loved one, leaders can appear grossly insensitive and callous. The better course of action is always to presume that a sizable shift in performance may be a result of a personal crisis and not a late-night TV binge.
Whenever a leader notices a pronounced change in attitude or performance, the smart strategy to explore it is to ask a caring question: Is everything okay?
Such a question opens the door for the colleague to share whatever they feel comfortable with. No matter the depth of the disclosure, leaders will typically learn if something at home is the likely source of the problem.
Asking a colleague who has been acting noticeably different if they are okay also sends important feedback that a change has been detected and requires some explanation. If a shift in attitude or performance is a result of more common issues, such as burnout or distaste for an assignment, the question still gets the job done.
A response like, “Everything is fine, why?” allows the leader to highlight the change and insist on a return to normal behavior. It also suggests that if everything is okay, then the aberrant behavior is clearly unacceptable.
Leaders of all stripes never know what they don’t know — especially about the personal issues that may be influencing workplace behavior. The best bet is not to guess, but instead to inquire with compassion. Asking those who act out of character if they are okay is the caring thing to do.
Good leaders are caring people.