Learn to Understand and Manage your High Maintenance Employees

high maintenance employees

Stop spending most of your time managing a few High Maintenance employees

The 80-20 rule applies to managing your team – 20% of team members will take 80% of your time. Why? How can you increase the happiness and performance of High Maintenance Employees?

Understanding and Managing High Maintenance Employees

Spend a moment reflecting on your staff members that are the most frustrating and time-consuming. Perhaps they want large amounts of your time, your opinions and expertise. Their feedback to you can be blunt and confronting. They might need reassurance and feedback more than other team members. They can seem to demand a lot from their team mates, causing tension and conflict. Decision making can falter until you give the go-ahead.

At times these team members can seem needy. When there is a high percentage of high maintenance people in a team, it can be quite burdensome for a manager.

How to Understand High Maintenance

The key is first to understand that each person in your team is motivated differently. Some common motivators are

  • Wanting to Lead,
  • Earning a High Income,
  • Enjoying Challenging Work,
  • Learning and Experiencing New Things,
  • Having a Stable Career.

We constantly strive to have our strong motivators met – such as by taking leadership opportunities, looking for or creating challenging work, exploring new areas and/or working in a way that will not jeopardise our career.

It helps to identify the primary motivators for each team member. This can be done through careful observation over time, but an easier and more accurate method is to use a Job-Centric and specific analytics tool like Harrison Assessments. (We are a Solutions Partner for Harrison Assessments).

When the Desire for a Capable Leader is High

A person’s primary motivators can include the desire for a capable leader that they can respect and from whom they can learn. Someone who will act as a role model. We call this motivator Wants Capable Leader. When this motivator is foremost, a person will have high demands of their leader, and of others.

High Demands and Expectations

The expectations on their leader will vary for different people. It can be for

  • external validation (recognition and acknowledgement),
  • decision-making,
  • one-on-one time
  • sharing of their expertise.

They can have expectations about

  • availability,
  • communication styles,
  • leadership styles,
  • their leader’s behavioural characteristics,
  • career stability,
  • remuneration rates.

When the expectations are numerous they become unrealistic and the person can be demanding and very high maintenance.

As a manager, you will feel the weight of these expectations. And if you put yourself in their shoes for a moment, you will also feel the burden of constantly working to have the expectations met; you will feel the disappointment when they are not. No wonder both of you feel frustrated.

When Discussion is Difficult

In my experience a High Maintenance employee can have difficulty discussing their expectations and their disappointments. They will avoid such discussions. However, when it becomes necessary to give feedback they can seem blunt, aggressive or dominating. Some examples are

  • “You are the worst manager that I have ever had,”
  • “How dare you do that,”
  • “I am incredibly disappointed. This is not what I thought working here would be like and not at all like my last job.”

Start from the Hiring Process

It is particularly important when considering people for positions of influence, such as leaders responsible for changing the culture, for driving change, and Management Level positions. A Harrison Assessments profile will highlight areas of High Maintenance. The profile can also show areas where expectations and workplace desires were not met in their previous role. Explore all of these areas in interviews.

It is also important to discuss the qualities that they look for in their Managers and other Leaders, and how their previous managers met or did not meet their expectations. As you explore this area, look for indications of being disappointed by previous managers and leaders, such as “He/She didn’t do this”, “They should have done that”, “I would have expected this from them, and they didn’t deliver.”

Working with High Maintenance Team Members

Communication and coaching are the two keys to working successfully with employees with high expectations. The best results are achieved with people who are open to growth, self-awareness and self-development.

Spend time exploring each expectation and examples of when each one is satisfied and when they are disappointed. Check in on their job satisfaction levels. Explain carefully which expectations can be accommodated and which cannot. Use clear feedback and goal setting to gradually develop stronger independence and trust in their own ability. Foster their understanding that they (not you) have the prime responsibility for having their expectations met and thus for their own job satisfaction.

Ganga Harvey consults and coaches in the areas of Leadership, Strategic Management and Change Management and has guided many organisations to much higher levels of performance.She is a Solutions Partner with Harrison Assessments, providing deep insights into your organisation.

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