This approach provides an alternative to coming up with plans we ask the employee to comply with, such as accommodation plans, return to work strategies or conflict resolution approaches. Instead, it actively engages the employee in developing a plan, strategy or approach they’re able to commit to long term.
This concept is about respecting an individual enough to help them commit to their own success and allowing them to lead by determining how they can achieve that success.
Even when they may have a mental illness?
Mental illnesses including depression or anxiety-related disorders can erode self-confidence in even the most accomplished professional. These illnesses rarely take away any existing skill or talent, but they may make the person feel less competent. Navigating the healthcare system to access treatment may also contribute to an employee’s feelings of disempowerment when recovery is a difficult journey.
During recovery or when the mental health condition is manageable, it can be extremely helpful to give back a level of control and responsibility to the employee by involving them in their own success and wellness at work. This approach can be viewed by employees as a fresh start as they focus on what they can’t do, not on what they can’t. When we set up the dynamic of commitment rather than compliance, we support the employee to consider approaches that allow them to imagine their own success.
But I’m the boss
You may initially feel like you’re giving away your authority but this isn’t the intention. You may wonder if the command and control model is working for you, then why would you change? This method of leadership can often be problematic, especially when you’re faced with employees experiencing emotional distress or mental health issues.
What commitment over compliance does is recognize that while you need to ensure tasks are accomplished, the employee who is doing the work helps decide how it is accomplished.
Even heavily regulated processes that leave little room for choice can benefit from the commitment over compliance approach.
In return to work or stay at work cases where the employee has come up with innovative and effective ways to accomplish the tasks of their job, despite any disability, it is often more successful and sustainable.
You’ll need to manage expectations when a request is not practical or reasonable. By coaching the employee to help arrive at solutions that are acceptable for your work situation, you’re still getting commitment. To help you with this, consider using the Before you say no for leaders approach.
If I do it for one, then I’ll have to do it for everyone
You may be concerned that allowing employees to come up with their own approach may open a floodgate of requests by other employees wanting the same treatment. This is less of an issue if you manage the approach to reduce putting anyone else at a disadvantage. This can be done by asking how co-workers will respond to the possible solution that is offered by the employee.
A receptionist suggested that someone cover for them at the reception desk when they were upset or crying. When asked how their co-workers might respond, they said their co-workers were already busy and would probably feel this was unfair. When asked what they could do about that, they thought for a moment and responded that since their coworkers hated filing, and they personally found filing calming, perhaps they could do the filing for the employee who covered the reception desk.
This not only had the effect of helping the co-workers to see the solution as fair, but they eventually began to request the receptionist swap roles because they had filing that needed to be done. What could have been a source of conflict ended up being mutually beneficial.
And what else?
When we’re upset for any reason, in crisis, stressed out, or experiencing a mental health issue, our minds are less clear. For this reason, it is important to be patient and thorough when exploring what is needed to allow for the successful completion of the work. The question “And what else?” can be helpful in supporting the employee to consider all possible solutions. In a state of emotional distress, what’s top of mind may or may not be the most relevant or important factor in success. By digging deeper and asking what else might be needed, we improve our chances at getting at the critical factors to success.
Many people recognize that negativity can be a symptom of depression and anxiety-related disorders but react defensively or feel frustrated by the expression of these thoughts. Some use the approach of trying to apply logic to an emotional issue or simply telling the distressed individual that they are wrong. This rarely works to improve the situation. By using a technique referred to as “restorying” we can help to gently change the way the situation is described into a story that offers some hope for moving beyond the problem or negativity.
For example, one person who continually talked about how everyone in the office was mean and out to get them, was brought back to a time where this was not true. This was important so that they could imagine that positive environment existing once again. They were helped to see that maybe their co-workers had developed a wrong impression of them and that this could change. When we restoried from “everyone hates me” to the idea that co-workers’ current opinions could change we were able to move forward to new approaches.
Commitment over compliance involves a specific skill set of helping people to arrive at their own solution for success at work. It takes patience and letting go of some control throughout the process. It can include a solution that only that employee could have thought of or a solution that you could never have demanded due to issues of confidentiality, labour laws or some other boundary. It can free the employee to consider personal, health, family and workplace factors that may impact their success and commit to modifying any or all of these. It can allow them to imagine their own success and work towards achieving it and help them realize your support for their success is genuine.
- Baynton, M. Resolving Workplace Issues. (2011) Waterdown, Ontario. Self-Published.