I heard a story recently that made me think about the workplace. It seems there was a new softball coach at a university, and it was her first time as a head coach. Evidently she was in the athletic director’s office early in her tenure with many “needs.”

As softball is a spring sport, the team didn’t start formal practices until several months after her arrival. She was what I would call high maintenance throughout the fall semester and into the spring. Then the team went on the road for an early season series out of state. After the first game, the athletic director received a call from a parent who attended the game. He shared that if a player took a called strike, the coach had the player drop to the ground there by home plate and do push-ups. The parent, who thought this was inappropriate, wanted to know what the athletic director was going to do about it.

Don’t we see this in the workplace? I’ve never seen a manager ask an employee to drop to the ground to do push-ups, but I’ve certainly seen managers humiliate employees.

Some managers use public venues to call out the mistakes employees make. That’s always inappropriate. Employees are going to make mistakes (as are managers), and the appropriate response to is coach the employee privately. Go to their office or take them into your office. Make sure they understand what they did and why it was either inappropriate or wrong. I’ve had conversations like this when the person did not understand that what they did was a problem. And that, sometimes, is the problem. But the key is to have private conversations when discussing problems.

Who responds positively to being humiliated? I certainly do not, nor have I ever known anyone who did. In fact, I harbor lots of negative thoughts about supervisors who take this approach.

“Who does he think he is?” “Has she never made a mistake herself?” “I’d like to see HIM treat that customer well, given what she was saying to me?”

You get the point.

Everyone has an occasional bad moment. We must be forgiven for those. But we need to learn what needs to be done differently, especially if we don’t understand why we’re being chastised. Mistakes are actually opportunities for improvement, but many managers haven’t figured that out.

Of course, if a person is making the same mistake over and over and has been coached about her behavior, there’s a pattern now and perhaps the person is in the wrong job. If it’s a customer-service role and the employee can’t ever seem to smile and act like he’s happy to help a customer, maybe he needs to be in the back office away from customers.

Chick-Fil-A, for example, hires for good attitudes and would never condone that behavior. Instead, they would attempt to coach the person to conform to their expectations. It may have happened, but I’ve never heard of a manager there embarrassing an employee.

Let’s return to our softball coach. The athletic director had a chat with her before her next game and strongly suggested that humiliating her players in front of her team, the other team, parents and spectators was not the way to get her players’ attention about what to do about called strikes. And ultimately, I don’t think the coach lasted very long in her role, as her style did not fit that type of institution. Good for that athletic director. If only managers in our workplaces could make the same decision!

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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