Although it’s important for you to understand the different work styles of your employees so you can support them, it’s also critical for you to understand your own work style. Are you creative? Structured? Wedded to your job? Resentful of the time your job keeps you from other activities? If you’re not sure, look around you. What do you see in your employees? While each person has a unique work style, like attracts like. People tend to be drawn to people who are like them, which is as true in the workplace as anywhere else. All other qualifications being equal, you’re more likely to hire someone you feel has something in common with you than someone who is clearly your opposite.
You might be a creative free spirit overseeing the work of people who prefer structure, not well-suited for the level of detail managing these employees requires — or the reverse. Be honest with yourself about your work style and your expectations. If you are not a good fit for your managerial duties or are in over your head, you and your employees will suffer. Pursue options that better match your abilities.
Sometimes remaining fair across work styles means separating out the accomplishments, both real and potential, of employees from your own values and standards. You might be pretty loose when it comes to the structure of your workday, content to work late all week and then take Friday afternoon off. Yet you might have employees who insist on leaving right at the stroke of five, regardless of what activity engages them when the workday officially ends.
As frustrating as this may be within the context of your work style, it’s important to shift your perceptions into the employee’s work style. If this person is incredibly productive during the workday, then it’s only fair for you to acknowledge this. You can’t expect your employees to behave like you do, or only reward them when they do. Fairness also means being able to respect and reward people for what and who they are, not what you want them to be.
Your personal work style forms the platform from which you accommodate other work styles. Yes, it’s a bias. But it’s where we all start. The key to being successful as a manager is to move beyond square one. Once you understand what your work style is, it’s easier to understand differing work styles. The only way to appreciate differences is to understand them. Then you can truly manage by building on people’s strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. And you can learn from your employees, so you too can grow and evolve.
by Gary McClain, Ph.D., and Deborah S. Romaine