Q: One of my employees claims to be suffering from "pregnancy brain." "Kate" was always a little spacey, but in recent weeks she has become extremely forgetful. Tasks which she routinely performed for years are now being overlooked, and I'm beginning to get complaints from other departments.
I don't want to seem unsympathetic or be accused of discrimination, but I need to solve this problem. When I asked Kate how I could help, she suggested that I just keep reminding her about things that need to be done. That's obviously not realistic, so how do I handle this?
A: Although opinions vary about the cause, medical experts generally agree that pregnancy can affect cognitive processes, so Kate's explanation is probably valid. When discussing these concerns with her, the best approach is not to criticize, but to demonstrate understanding while requesting help in solving the most crucial problems.
For example: "Kate, I'm sure these memory issues are frustrating for you, so let's discuss some strategies for managing them. I'm particularly concerned about budget reports and data needed by other departments. Do you have any ideas for creating reminders in those areas?"
Regardless of whether she prefers computer-generated prompts or strategically placed sticky notes, the objective is simply to trigger Kate's memory at appropriate times. But before having any pregnancy-related discussion, be sure to avoid legal pitfalls by consulting your labor attorney or human resources manager.
Co-worker's errors creating more work
Q: I have been struggling for months to keep up with a steadily increasing workload. My manager recognized the problem and assigned a co-worker to help, but this is doing more harm than good. Although "Rachel" completes tasks very quickly, she tends to make a lot of errors.
Now, in addition to doing my own work, I have to spend time fixing Rachel's mistakes. I don't want to sound unappreciative, but her assistance has actually made my job more difficult. Whenever I mention this to my boss, he immediately defends Rachel. What should I do?
A: If you can choose what to delegate to your error-prone colleague, you might try giving her tasks which are simpler or more familiar. But if you have no choice about her assignment, perhaps you should rethink the way you handle her mistakes.
As long as you continue to fix her blunders, Rachel will never learn to do things properly. Completing the work yourself only fosters her incompetence, so consider returning the errors to her for correction. While this may take more time initially, it will help Rachel become a more useful assistant.
A third possibility is to revise the way you present this issue to your boss. Based on his defensive reaction, I assume you have been complaining about Rachel's ineptitude, but a better strategy is to request his help in solving a business problem.
To illustrate the difference, here's what complaining sounds like: "Rachel makes so many mistakes that she's really no help at all. She's fast, but she's careless, so working with her only makes my job more difficult."
This is a more effective approach: "I really appreciate your asking Rachel to help out with my heavy workload. My only concern is that her lack of experience limits her ability to do these tasks correctly. Since working with her hasn't saved any time, I'd like to discuss some other possible solutions."
Managers hate dealing with employee squabbles, so they often react badly to gripes about co-workers. A businesslike request for assistance will usually elicit a more helpful response.