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Avoiding the Danger Zone on Your Workforce “Maintenance Meter”

Avoiding the Danger Zone on Your Workforce “Maintenance Meter”

Have you ever thought to yourself or even blurted out, “Wow, so and so is SO high maintenance!” Or maybe it’s gone the other way: “Phew, what a relief so and so is low maintenance!”?

These observations can arise in both our personal and professional lives. When it comes to talent management, where an employee falls on the “Maintenance Meter” can actually make a huge difference not just with their level of efficiency, but also overall productivity and even your company's level of success.

Avoiding the Danger Zone on Your Workforce “Maintenance Meter”

Low Vs. High Maintenance Behavior

Admit it, we’re all a little bit low and high maintenance. Most of us can find a balance between the two modes. When we swing too far to the high end, we can usually check ourselves, or someone else does that for us.

However, when someone continually lands on the high end, that’s when we’re entering the “danger zone”. This behavior can perpetuate a whole slew of problems, especially in the workplace.

High maintenance behavior impacts all of us. Managers are especially affected by a high maintenance employee given the demands it can make on time, which can usually be better spent on business priorities.

For example, when an employee interrupts his/her manager repeatedly with non-urgent questions or complaints instead of addressing them all at once, or seeking other sources for the answer, that manager can become distracted, making it difficult to get back on track and potentially causing rework.

This kind of disruption can also affect peers, not just managers. High maintenance behavior is equal opportunity!

Good Intentions Gone Awry

While being low maintenance is often a source of pride, it can sometimes backfire. Employees who believe they’re acting low maintenance may actually become high maintenance unintentionally.

For example, in their effort to take initiative, an employee may try to handle things themselves and maybe overstep, creating more work for their manager who then needs to unravel the effect of their good intentions.

This is a great opportunity for developmental coaching to help redirect that self-motivated behavior to better achieve their desired goal. Maybe that individual could be delegated an additional responsibility that, under your mentorship, could actually help relieve you of some duties, freeing you up to focus on other key issues?

Creating a Balanced Workplace

One way to avoid the danger zone on the Maintenance Meter is to consider the qualities you’re looking for during the hiring process. Asking the right questions about work style, communication preference and performance record can provide clues about where someone lands on the meter.

Consider this: During the interview try to gauge how the candidate typically gets his/her work done. Ask probing questions such as “If you’re unsure of how to handle a project or task, how do you deal with that?” Do they use their available resources to find answers, or do they automatically lean on others, or even their manager?

Alternatively, ask for examples of when they’ve been put in a situation outside their comfort zone. Their answers to these types of questions can be telling about where they might land on the Maintenance Meter.

When looking to fill openings on your team, look for these 5 key qualities in your employees:

  • Positive Attitude – There’s a reason this is at the top of the list. In the workplace, those with a positive attitude are often better contributors to team projects. And they tend to be more pleasant to run into by the watercooler. Read more about the benefits of a positive attitude in the workplace. (
  • Patience - As we all know, things don’t move as quickly as we’d like in the corporate world and someone who can free him/herself of frustration is freeing! Also, approaching customers with patience is important, and can help build trust.
  • Self-Confidence - Those who possess it demonstrate a comfort level with navigating ambiguity and high-paced change. Their self-assurance means they also require less assistance with their work and may be willing to take on projects or tasks they’re not prepared for. Of course, too much self-confidence can be a problem, so be careful to look for the real thing!
  • Self-Motivation – For managers, a self-motivated employee is a lifesaver. Admit it, no one likes interruptions. Granted this wouldn’t be realistic for new employees, or situations where a manager is truly needed. What I’m talking about is excessive behavior, when an employee just can’t seem to light their own fire. Self-motivation not only minimizes the need for manager involvement, but also enables delegation and autonomy. This is what any of us strives for – being trusted to take on new responsibilities, and the opportunity to demonstrate our value in new ways in order to grow.
  • Resourceful Problem Solving – Problems are a day-to-day occurrence in the workplace. How your employees react to them is key to your company’s success. Especially when a customer is involved, the more creativity someone employs in finding solutions, the better.

Keeping the Maintenance Meter in mind when building a winning team is key to your talent management success. Once high maintenance behavior takes root, it’s much harder to change it. Hiring employees with qualities that support low maintenance behavior is a good way to avoid falling into the danger zone.

So, where do you think YOU fall on the Maintenance Meter?

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