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Amy Alvarez | 9/30/2021

When I was a retail manager, this would happen to me often. An employee would tell me they didn’t complete an important assigned task, or they would call out for their shift. And I could see it from both sides. They had a lot of conflicting responsibilities that day and yet, this task would prevent us from moving on to the next. Or I don’t want them to come to work when they are sick even though their absence was going to affect their peers and our success for the shift.

Plus, I’m a people pleaser by nature, a realization that has come with maturity. And I want my employees to feel supported and heard when they are struggling or sick. So, I would often say, “It’s Ok – No Worries.”. It didn’t really feel like I had a choice, anyway. The task wasn’t done, or the person wasn’t coming to work. It was time to move on and figure out how to get it done.

But that’s not what I meant. What I should have said was it’s not ok and there are a lot of worries.

A few months ago, I said this phrase again for the first time in a long time. “It’s Ok – No Worries.” As soon as it escaped my lips, I was frustrated with myself. I had good intentions behind what I said. Like the times before, I was conflicted because I could see both sides. This person didn’t think they could get an important task done because of a personal issue and I respect them and the situation. Yet, the task needed to be completed, it was their responsibility and taking it on was going to compromise my own task list.   I also wasn’t familiar with the task and was not equipped to complete it efficiently, causing me a great deal of stress.

I know, especially related to call outs, you have said “It’s ok – no worries.” a few times in your practice. Whether we feel we have a choice or not, it doesn’t make it acceptable. This phrase is used for acknowledgement in this situation, not permission. There are a few things you should do after you use it, or any phrase that can similarly be confused as permission.

  1. Take care of the immediate need: If it’s a task or you are understaffed for the day, focus your time and energy on keeping the train moving forward.
  2. Understand why this situation was unacceptable to you: If it’s not ok and there are a lot of worries, take the time to understand why this is an issue.
  3. Address your concern with the employee: Because acknowledgement can easily be misunderstood as permission, this is a very important step. Employees will learn what is acceptable behavior by what you allow them to do.
  4. Hold your team accountable to your boundaries: Although this issue may have passed, something else may come up in the future that will test your boundaries again. Understand that setting expectations requires more than set it and forget it policies. Ongoing communication is necessary for effective accountability from your team.

After the dust had settled and this task was completed, I reflected on why I said, “It’s ok – no worries” and I went back to this person and explained what I meant. I shared that it wasn’t ok that this task hadn’t been completed or that there wasn’t a plan to get it done. I shared that I didn’t have the knowledge needed to complete it and had to put of my responsibilities on hold to get it done. Essentially - It was not ok and there were a lot of worries.

Setting Boundaries for yourself while supporting your team may feel like one of the hardest lines to draw. With each unique situation and the workload at that time, the line may feel like it has morphed into a plastic bag floating in the wind. Practice doesn’t make perfect (see my story above) but it does make it much easier to recover when you haven’t been clear. So don’t worry – it will be ok.

Amy Alvarez
Human Resources Consultant
Amy Alvarez, SHRM-CP is IDOC’s Human Resources Consultant. Amy has experience in HR in healthcare and retail, management in big box and specialty retail stores and physician recruitment. Through these roles and training, Amy is well-versed in recruitment and hiring strategies for “hard to fill” roles, dealing with low productivity, helping encourage employee engagement, on-boarding, training, day-to-day management in a retail setting, employee relations, and so much more.
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