Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I have an employee who is a strong performer but she has a very annoying habit of chewing on her nails. She does not just bite them, she actually gnaws on them in meetings, in one-on-one interactions and sitting in her cubicle. A number of people have mentioned something to me and I have, in a joking sense, suggested she needs to get herself chewing gum. She just says, “It’s a nervous habit” and then goes on doing it. Do I have a right to insist she stop?
We sit in front of clients who have multiple millions invested with us and most are too polite to say anything. But I can tell they notice. I haven’t had a client complain but do I want to run the risk she will annoy one of them? I’m an older man and she is a younger woman and I don’t know how to approach this.
Ah, the joys of being the boss! I’d suggest you hand this off to your HR group, but you are probably like most of my advisor clients and don’t have someone officially assigned to HR. This is a delicate issue but it does need to be addressed. Whenever you need to address something that is serious, you don’t want to approach it in a joking manner. It lets the other person off the hook and they don’t need to respond seriously, if you are not taking it serious.
In the case of nail biting, this is a habit that has deep psychological roots. Nail biting is often an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and not just a nasty habit. She is probably telling you the truth when she says she is “nervous,” as it can also be a sign of anxiety or worry.
But you can’t let it continue. It is distracting and it sends a poor message to clients, and to employees. There are a few things you can do:
- Have a formal meeting with her. No joking and no kidding. Explain to her, from the seat of the client, that her habit detracts from how intelligent she comes across. Try and get her to see what the experience is like on the other side of the table. Explain that any habit – feet tapping, pencil chewing, nail biting, excessive sniffling, etc. can distract an audience such that they cease to focus on what’s important and focus only on the habit. Maybe if she understands what it is like on the “outside,” she will be more conscious of it.
- Let her know you care about her and have read up on nail biting. You’ve seen that it can be a response to worry or anxiety (don’t accuse her of being OCD, which requires a medical diagnosis) and ask her if there is anything you can to help alleviate her stress by providing her with a coach, or a shorter work day from time to time, or help with time management. You might first have to ask her about obstacles and what she perceives as stressful in order to help manage it.
Read the full article here by Beverly Flaxington, Advisor Perspectives