Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

3 Ways to Show You Have Your Employees' Backs

The old saying, When the cat's away, the mice will play, rings all too true for many a manager. Wouldn't it be great if you could always trust every employee to be just as productive when your back is turned? There is something you can do to help.

by Joel Robitaille
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Just out of school, I worked in the finishing department of a cabinet making company. One busy afternoon a work order came through for 10 armoires that needed to be finished black.

So I sprayed the units up along with the shelves and doors, and then passed them down the line to be sanded, top coated, assembled and packaged.

They were beautiful, until shipping ascertained they were supposed to be sprayed white.

My supervisor was angry, but before he made any accusations he checked the work order. The code on the order said black, not white—despite already having been eyeballed by the majority of the department supervisors who were aware of the appropriate color and failed to catch the error.

“I got your back,” my supervisor reassured me before walking across the shop, work order in hand, to discuss the situation with the plant manager.

In this one small incident, there are three examples of things you can do to assure your employees you have their backs:

1. Relate – The supervisor investigated the situation before making any accusations or conclusions, even though he was livid. Having worked in my position himself, he treated me the way he would have wanted to be treated. The ability to empathize and put yourself in your employees’ shoes will go a long way in affirming your support for them.

2. Tell – He explicitly told me he had my back. While you may think your employees know you’re watching out for them, it’s not always the case. Find ways to tell them you have their back.

3. Show – Saying is one thing, and doing is another. The supervisor could have brought me along to explain to the plant manager what happened. Instead, he spared me the discomfort of having to answer for something that was not my fault.

In the finishing department, regardless if our supervisor was in production meetings, updating our MSDS files, or occupied somewhere else, our work ethic never changed because we didn’t want our production to reflect poorly on him. In essence, he had our backs and so we had his.

It goes to show that it’s much easier to maintain your employees’ respect and support if you make it obvious they have yours first.