How Would Your Manager Rate Your Hassle Factor – High or Low?

    About five years ago, my wife and I bought a new car to replace my aging college jalopy. We used every resource we had to bring the price down to where we could afford it: credit card points you could apply to vehicles, an employee discount through my company, trade in of the old car, and a little bit of cash we raised picking up cans by the side of the road (O.K., maybe the last part was made up, but we did use everything else). By nature we are not extravagant spenders, but for this purchase, we went all out. Leather seats, all the bells and whistles, even the flashy red paint that was limited to the high end model. We planned on making this car last for awhile, so we were O.K. with the expense. For about four years, the car ran great and we really enjoyed how it handled and rode. The gas mileage was good and because it was a six cylinder, it had plenty of power when it was needed. Our car was our friend.

    Somewhere around Year Five, however, the friendship started to go south in a hurry. The water pump failed, spraying coolant all over the engine and requiring a complete change of belts. Two (yes, two) batteries died and one came close to exploding, according to the service guy who seemed a bit nervous as he removed it from the car. Strange noises came from the wheel well, making us wonder if it was something minor or if we would soon see our left front wheel waving to us from the other lane. Then, just after fixing yet another coolant leak, which caused us to keep a close eye on the coolant level every other day, the topper: complete and total engine failure due to a fully drained battery and dead alternator at four thousand feet of elevation on a stretch of a mountain road where there was absolutely no cell service. It is one thing to be fuming mad that you were going to incur yet ANOTHER repair bill on a car that you would love to push off a cliff. It is a completely different experience to be fuming AND trying to coast a two-ton rolling chunk of metal down a mountain with no power steering or power brakes.

    We no longer own this car. It was sold for a few magic beans and its blue book value approximately two weeks after this little experience. Why, you ask? An alternator is a relatively cheap repair compared to replacing the whole car, isn’t it? Weren’t the leather seats still soft and comfortable? Didn’t the six cylinder engine still kick out enough power and give you decent gas mileage? Did the gadgets still work? Yes to all of it, but the key factor was…I could no longer trust it. Its hassle factor became too high.

    I see the same concept of ‘hassle factor’ come into play when managers describe employees who contribute a significant amount through their jobs but require more than the average amount of attention. Such as:

    o The sales employee who consistently beats his sales numbers but treats fellow employees so poorly that people quit the company or leave the department;

    o The graphic design employee who produces phenomenally creative work but cannot be counted on to deliver the completed project by the deadline;

    o The project manager who is the best in the company but spends at least an hour a week in her supervisor’s office complaining about her pay and asking for a promotion;

    o The programmer who produces fast, efficient results but has a temper that makes clients reluctant to work with him on projects.

    These examples illustrate some of the ways an employee can reduce the value of their contribution to their employer and more importantly, their manager, by having a high hassle factor. Managers may tolerate employees who do tremendous jobs but create headaches for them, but only under certain conditions.

    What are these conditions? Imagine a balancing scale. One tray holds the contributions of the employee and the other tray holds the frustrations or extra work a “high hassle factor” employee creates for his or her manager. As long as the employee’s contribution side is outweighing or equal to the frustrations side, the manager will most likely put up with the employee’s problematic behavior. But should the scale begin to tip the other way, it is likely the manager will reach the end of his or her patience and either address the issue through discipline or move the employee out of the organization.

    High hassle factor employees create problems for everyone. They can create resentment among other employees in the workplace. These ‘low hassle factor’ employees are working hard and not causing trouble, but they do not see their boss spending any extra time with them. They may also wonder if they would receive the same preferential treatment if they hit a rough patch in their job performance and needed the boss to be patient while they worked things out.

    High hassle factor employees cause problems for managers, too. The manager’s dilemma is whether to try and mold the employee into shape, hoping the employee will get over whatever problematic behaviors are exhibited, or just keep cleaning up the messes?

    So what do we do about it? We (employees) do not do anything about it. That is why managers get paid the big bucks – to handle headaches like this. But you can serve yourself well by making sure you understand your own ‘hassle factor,’ or those things that could create a hassle factor for your boss, and try to keep your ‘factor’ as low as possible.

    For this exercise, you will need to step back and take an honest look at yourself and say, do I have any habits or behaviors that could potentially grow into hassle factors for my manager or supervisor? As with other guidance I have given you throughout this book, feedback from others who know you well would be of tremendous benefit as it is difficult to be objective about ourselves. Some areas you may be able to assess on your own, however, are:

    o Are you chronically late? If so, could this lateness impact your work in any way? Would people know when they could expect your work to get done?

    o Do you handle accountability well or do you over-commit and under-deliver on your obligations and responsibilities? If the latter, it is not a question of when your work would get done, it is a question of whether it would get done at all! Not something a manager wants to worry about from an employee for very long.

    o Do you keep your emotions in check when dealing with other people in difficult situations, or do you take the opportunity to prove the saying “Never back down from a fight?” Will your boss need to go behind you to manage the damage to your department or your company’s reputation as a result of your confrontations?

    What is the #1 hassle factor of all time? In my experience, the hands-down winner is the chronic complainer. Let’s put this into context, however. Problems do crop up in the workplace and the only way a manager knows about many of them is if someone complains about them. Obviously, a manager cannot fix what he or she does not know about. The most effective complaints, however, are followed up with “instead, could we try it this way?” or “what might work differently is…” I personally love these complaints because I find out about the problem AND learn a possible solution.

    But when the high hassle factor complainer shows up, they usually complain about nothing specific (they do not have a particular problem but they are not happy and they want you to know it) or they have a specific, lengthy complaint but have no idea or recommendation for how to resolve it. They also seem to have a need to perpetually bring problems/complaints of every shape and size to the manager’s door.

    If you have a complaint or problem, DO bring it to your manager for discussion, but include at least a general suggestion on how the situation could be remedied. Otherwise, it is as if you just vomited on your manager and walked away – you feel better but they have a mess on their hands. I do not particularly care for people doing that to me, and I am thinking your manager will not be fond of it, either.

    If you cannot think of a solution to your problem, it may be that you do not have a true complaint. You may just need to whine. Work problems need to be shared with your manager; whines should be shared with friends. But if you feel the need to behave like the chronic complainer, do so at your own peril. As the saying goes, “chronic complaining is like a car alarm – people start tuning it out after awhile.” Your boss may begin dismissing your opinions and completely tune you out…just like we ignore car alarms.

    Excerpt from Leaving Campus and Going to Work

    by T. Jason Smith

    ISBN 0-9777237-6-3

    Aspen Mountain Publishing

    Release date April 12, 2006

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