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Tough Truths About Managing Employees in Small Business

by Alison Ringo
As a manager in a small business instead of a larger one, you have no choice but to squelch some very human impulses. Your success at overcoming these tendencies is crucial to the success of your company.

No Double Standards – It should go without saying not to hold different employees to different standards. But this rule applies equally to your demeanor around your employees – and to the office itself.

If you think lunch should be a break room affair, not a desk situation, don’t institute this rule just for your employees and ignore it yourself. If the lunch rule is in place to maintain a professional atmosphere, don’t undermine that atmosphere in other areas.

Example: If the office plumbing breaks, don’t expect your employees to work without running water. (This isn’t even getting into how requiring work with no running water is an OSHA violation.) Get a plumber now, or send your folks home. Don’t expect employees to use the fast food joint across the street for their modern plumbing needs. (Unfortunately, this example comes from real life!)

No Personal Grudge Settling – If your business environment is such that everyone knows each other, then everyone really, truly knows each other, whether they like it or not. This presents you the manager a tricky situation: interpersonal conflicts that aren’t about work.

If Jane is miffed at Jen because Jen invited John to lunch yesterday but not Jane, that affects all three of their work, particularly if they’re on the same or related teams. What you absolutely cannot do is get involved; what you must do is expect and insist that employees treat each other with mutual respect at all times.

No Making Friends – It might sound harsh, but your employees are not your friends. You can be friendly with them. You can be warm and caring. You certainly shouldn’t evince a lack of interest in who they are as people or whether they’re feeling happy and fulfilled throughout the week.

Yes, you can have birthday parties at work and even the odd Friday group lunch. What you can never do is turn your manager-employee relationship into a social one. That immediately sets you up to break the other two rules on this list. Furthermore, it undermines your authority in the office. And losing authority in a small office, as a manager, is about the least effective thing you can let happen to you.

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