My brother and his wife recently had their first baby. The conversation came up on how to ‘read’ a babies cry. A baby crying is always a cry for attention. We talked about classic 6 checkpoints to cover to address the baby’s need at that time and how knowing these checkpoints could be help in being a great manager.
Too hot/too cold
Wet nappy (or worse!)
Social interaction for safety, bonding, physical & mental stimulation
Some times a baby’s cry can be due to a combination of a number of these factors. Similarly babies can teach us how to identify the cry’s for attention by our employees.
These work place equivalents can give a manager the clues for what to look for. When an employee is making a complaint either directly, or indirectly, they are responding to primal needs, although somewhat more developed and sophisticated from their days as a baby!
1. Too Hot/Cold = The Employees Environment
This not only extends to the literal physical requirement, but also extends to their safety, cultural environment, management style experienced, and the political context of their environment. Other workplace environmental factors include resources available and how that impacts them, their work and the goals they seek to achieve. Like Goldilocks, we are seeking an environment that is ‘just right’ for us. When it is not, a cry for attention can manifest ultimately in bad turnover statistics…or a broken chair. Literally!
2. Hungry/Thirsty = What Nourishes Them
Employees that are hungry for nourishment can take the form of fulfillment of their mental capacity, or their financial/salary needs. For some it’s ambition and a need to be promoted or given good work that leverages their long term career. It comes down to what is a need for the individual to ‘survive’ in their work world. A need to be motivated, or for their soul to be nourished through work.
3. Too Tired = System Overload
As adults we get too tired too! Being overworked, even if we love our work, places us under mental and physical overload. Unfortunately some companies label people as ‘clock watchers’ if they seek to balance out their lives. In contradiction to this attitude, a well rested and balanced individual can be far more alert, creative, and produces higher quality work, rather than being seen as a culture fit against the clock.
4. Wet Nappy = Need Help With Skills
Even a baby understands not being able to manage it’s own comfort level. That’s why they cry when they reach a level of discomfort with an unchanged nappy. They don’t have the skills, resources or know (or capacity) to change it themselves.
Similarly a cry for attention in the workplace can be based on an individual’s level of insecurity due to a lacking of skills, knowledge or a capacity to exercise that which they do have. A common scenario can be when a new comer into the team who seems to have more skills, experience and knowledge can be bullied by others, as they see it as a threat to their positioning within the team or future opportunities. The cry for help manifests as bullying. The bully gets punished, and the real need is left unrooted to raise it’s head again in the same, or an alternative cry for attention.
5. Social Interaction = Belonging & Validation
The baby inside all of us needs to know we are secure and loved. Employees seek psychological comfort of feeling they are part of a team, contributing, and that their efforts and thoughts are validated. We seek job security. We need to collaborate, connect and exchange. We seek respect and approval by our managers. We seek guidance and good role models by our leadership and expect to be protected both physically and psychologically within our work environment. We place our trust in our leadership to protect us and make the bad stuff go away.
6. Pain & Sickness = Wellbeing
As adults we are able to manage physical pain. It is the emotional and mental pain that is a lot more difficult and insidious. Cries for attention in the work place can be rooted in emotional stress an individual may be experiencing due a combination of the above factors, or personal issues. They can manifest as antisocial behaviour, right through to clinical mental issues. When the real problem is a lack of emotional wellbeing. Many stigmas are attached to this which drive employees to cover up and hide emotional issues. We don’t talk about it, and it goes unmanaged or untreated.
As adults we are expected to manage our emotions, however when we feel needs are not being met, we can regress to child like behaviour in the work place, so we can get attention. It is a cry for help. These may manifest as sickies, late starts, pilfering, angry outbursts, bullying, coveting work or information, and many, many more.
So next time a staff member is acting out. Look for the underling inside. Consider that the behaviour is a cry for attention. Respond to the behaviour, but don’t punish before understanding the cause.
Anne-Marie is a sought after media commentator on HR, leadership, and business and has appeared in various publications including Sydney Morning Herald, Boss Magazine, NETT Magazine, Marie Claire, CLEO, My Business, Dynamic Business, Cosmopolitan & HR Monthly. In June 2012 Anne-Marie Co-authored ‘Mind Your Own Business’, a guide for small businesses, published by Mithra Publishing in the UK.