Elizabeth Arnott, SPHR
When Your Employee Asks Too Many Questions
You're leading a staff meeting, rolling out a new protocol. Before you are done explaining the new protocol, John's hand shoots up. "I have a question. What if the customer doesn't meet the requirements?" You answer. Then he asks "What if the protocol fails?" You answer again. The rest of the staff is becoming visibly irritated by John, as this is a regular occurrence in staff meetings. After the meeting, John comes up to you to ask more questions. How do you respond?
You probably have an urge to tell John to just go back to his desk and do his job. You could do that. But before you do that, take a moment to ask yourself one question: "Why is he asking questions?" If he didn't care about the job, he wouldn't ask any questions at all, so it's not that he doesn't care. Is it because he doesn't fully understand the new protocol? That is more likely. If that's the case, then questions are good, right? You want employees to understand what they are doing.
Employees want to understand what they are doing and why - and once they understand, they are more likely to be engaged in the task. Asking questions is the natural way to resolve these concerns. Many people process information differently, and need to know as much information as possible before making decisions or fully understanding what they need to do. This is not a negative attribute. It shows that they want to take care before taking action. This is a positive thing.
"But they interrupt every staff meeting with questions every week!" If you know an employee is going to have a lot of questions, consider scheduling a standing meeting with this employee, one-on-one, after the staff meetings for them to ask all the questions they want to ask. Even a short meeting, five or ten minutes long, could resolve those concerns and give the employee the information they need to be successful.
"Their questions are so basic, I think it shows they aren't qualified for her job." That is possible. Talk to them and tell them that you are concerned that they are asking questions about things that you expected them to know prior to starting this job. Ask them what they need to be successful. Provide them with training. Put them on a performance improvement plan, if appropriate. Check in with them regularly. Don't take action against them solely based on the questions. It could be their way of working through the process. Focus on their performance and work product.
"I think this employee just wants to publicly poke holes in the new protocol because they don't like it." That's a possibility. The employee is likely not going to admit this to you, though. So what's the best way to respond? If you assume that this is the employee's motivation, you risk dismissing the legitimate concerns of an employee who is engaged enough to ask questions. Believe it or not, you NEED employees who question processes. You need their perspective, especially if they are the ones that are executing the process. Your customers and clients are diverse in background, thought processes and knowledge, just like your employees. Listening to your employees is a pro-active way to address potential concerns from customers and clients.
Your best option is to treat your employee's questions seriously, and take the time to answer their questions. Follow up to see if they have any concerns in a few days. If they mistrust management, taking them seriously and following through with diligence can help to build trust and show them that you value their input.
An inclusive culture is one that respects and welcomes every background, ethnicity, culture and neurodiverse method of processing information. Welcome questions. Take them seriously. Listen to their feedback. Be inclusive of your questioning employees. It can only improve understanding.