When It’s Time To Step In – Effective FEC Leadership
FEC managers must quickly deal with conflict
by Mike Bederka
Jim feels slighted because Kate got the promotion over him. Sam balks that Paige works the go-karts all the time. Bill complains his boss singles him out for extra scrutiny.
Conflict among staff members and between an employee and management can happen almost every day at a family entertainment center (FEC). This sort of disruptive work environment begets poor productivity, bad customer service, and perhaps high employee turnover. As a result, a facility’s revenue may take a big hit.
Most issues can be resolved before a huge blowout, so it’s important to point out several common sources of conflict:
A lack of connectedness. The younger generation has played a role in decision making since an early age, explains Lori A. Hoffner, a consultant with Supporting CommUnity Inc., in Littleton, Colorado. “When they get into a workplace, that changes drastically. They’re not involved in decision making, and they feel out of the loop.”
No clear expectations. “People don’t know what they’re supposed to do,” says Laura O’Neal, executive director of The Peninsula Dispute Resolution Center, in Port Angeles, Washington. “There’s not an active policies and procedures manual in place.” All information, from job responsibilities to appearance, must be explicit, Hoffner adds. “We can’t just assume they know what a dress code is and why it’s important.”
Management issues. Disgruntled Generation Y employees commonly believe the boss isn’t fair or plays favorites. “When in reality, the boss is just swamped,” O’Neal says, “or he was promoted without any personnel training and doesn’t have the support needed for tricky issues.” Also, managers should be friendly but not friends with staff. “You can’t always have a social atmosphere in the workplace,” Hoffner says.
Serious conflict doesn’t go away on its own. However, managers tend “to not deal with it until it throws itself in your face,” says O’Neal, coauthor of the book “Fun Training Serious Results.”
Or, in an equally dangerous scenario, a supervisor sees two staff members bickering and he escalates the situation by screaming, “You guys quit fighting!” describes Eric Chester, president and CEO of Generation Why Inc., of Lakewood, Colorado.
Instead, managers should be proactive and stick to a calm approach for any clashes. If a supervisor witnessed a heated exchange, he or she needs to take each person aside and ask what happened, Chester says. The problem could be as simple as confusion over shift coverage. “Oftentimes, the conflict will be resolved when someone expresses their thoughts,” he says.
The conversation also should cover the impact of the argument (guests don’t like to see employees fighting, and it may prevent them from coming back), and the desire that the manager doesn’t want to see any more open confrontations.
The supervisor should conclude the talk by giving a warning: If this happens again, I’m going to have to do X. Follow through is critical, Chester says. “You can’t say heads are going to roll and then don’t do anything.”
The setting in any formal mediation can be a subtle but important factor. For disagreements between employees, the manager’s office can add a level of authority that might help with a conflict, says Hoffner, who has lectured at IAAPA Attractions Expo on Generation Y. A neutral site might be better for a disagreement between an employee and her boss. She may feel uncomfortable on his “turf.”
Finally, involving parents in disagreements drew mixed responses from experts. Both Hoffner and O’Neal generally frown on the practice, saying it could create real boundary issues. Their only exceptions would be if the manager believes the staffer has a serious problem or there’s some sort of legal matter.
Chester, on the other hand, believes parents can be “the third leg of the stool” as long as the manager brings them aboard early on. He encourages FECs to host a Parents Day to meet employees’ families. At the event, a manager can clearly lay out expectations and offer his phone number in case the parents ever have a question or concern.
With the lines of communication now open, managers can call home when the employee performs a superior job (a great motivational tool—see more in the sidebar) as well as when a sticky work situation pops up.
Contact Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at mbederka@IAAPA.org.