If you have been a manager or supervisor for six months or more, you have likely had to address some type of employee behavior or performance concern. It is my opinion, as someone who has provided guidance to employees and managers regarding many employee relations issues, that this task is possibly the most-dreaded, and often the most-frequently mishandled task of all by all involved. As you can imagine, employees often disagree with their manager’s perspective and managers get frustrated because they feel that the employee is not willing to comply with their directive.
Well, today’s post is for my fellow managers and human resources professionals who are charged with navigating difficult workplace situations. Particularly if you are new to the Employee Relations arena, I know that it can be stressful at times, so in this post, I will share with you some valuable lessons that I have learned throughout my career and provide you with some sage advice on best practices that I have applied when addressing employee behavior and performance issues. So here are the first four recommendations that I will share with you. If you implement these recommended steps, you will increase your chances of having the most positive outcome possible under difficult circumstances: 1) Address the concern timely; 2) Don’t make it personal; 3) Remember that you are interacting with another human being; 4) Listen actively:
• One of the biggest concerns that I have seen consistently over the years with the way the many managers address employee behavior and performance issues is their failure to address the issue. Because they don’t feel comfortable initiating the conversation, they keep putting it off; however, the longer they postpone the inevitable, the more serious issue gets…sometimes to the point of being unsalvageable. That is why I typically advise managers to address the issue sooner than later. This often allows for the opportunity to identify some alternative corrective actions that do not involve formal discipline, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), training, verbal counseling, a change to job duties, added management support, more structure, etc. Being able to implement these types of changes often creates a win-win for everyone. Even if you end up having to administer disciplinary action later, you can rest assured that you tried other options first.
• When I advise you to not make it personal, I mean exactly that. I have seen managers who have verbally attacked the employee, by calling them dumb, and making other personally-disparaging remarks to the employee. This type of behavior will immediately put the employee on the defensive and likely result in his/her shutting down. You don’t want that to happen. What you should want, if you are a manger who cares about their team members, is to create an environment that fosters a two-way conversation between you and the employee. My professional motto is that “everyone who seeks my assistance will leave my presence with their dignity in-tact.” I’ll tell you that the absolute best complement that I received to date in my career came from a gentleman whose poor attendance and punctuality put his employment in jeopardy, so I had to investigate his continued failure to report to work as scheduled. During the investigation, he shared with me that he had an alcohol problem and that it had already had a negative effect on his marriage and now it was doing the same to his career. I subsequently reminded him of our employer’s confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and encouraged him to contact them and ask for help while he was still an employee. Now, I don’t know if he ever did as I advised or not, but I knew that I had done my part to try and help him. Even though the investigation resulted in a decision to terminate his employment, this gentleman tried to give me a gift because he said that I treated him with more respect than his manager did and because he never felt that I was judging him. Let me tell you that his words were confirmation for me that I was doing what I was meant to do. I share that with you to prove that it is possible to be a great employee relations professional and treat people with the respect that they deserve as human beings.
• Another thing that pains me is to see managers who act as if they have never made a mistake on a job during their entire career. My theory is that at least seventy-five percent (75%) of employees have committed a mistake, or behaved in a manner, at least once, that could have ended in their having received some level of disciplinary action. We must remember that there is absolutely no reason to not be civil, unless your safety is in danger. As human beings, we will inevitably make mistakes, and while I don’t recommend that a manager go into detail with his/her employees about their brushes with discipline, I do recommend just being human. When addressing your employee’s unacceptable behavior or performance, let them know that you understand that none of us perform at 100% all the time. Always remember, that unless you are at the point of termination, you should offer your employer’s EAP program as a possible source of a solution to any challenge that the employee may be facing that could be affecting their behavior or performance. Next, proceed to explain that certain behaviors and levels of performance are just unacceptable because you work for a business and the business’ success is what enables us to remain employed. So, everyone must pull their load and anyone who fails to do so puts their job in jeopardy. This way you have expressed compassion while remaining firm with the expectation that he/she will make any necessary changes.
• Being an active listener is indescribably important when addressing employees’ unacceptable behavior and performance. You never know what could be contributing to the employee’s behavior and performance issues, so you, as the manager, should address the issue of concern, but also allow the employee time to explain what is happening. The employee could be experiencing problems at home or in another part of their life. This is where EAP comes in…as a resource to help to overcome the challenges that they are facing. If they see that you are listening to what they are saying and responding with a possible resource through which they can seek assistance, they will feel like more than just an employee I.D. # and more like a valued member of your team.
So, there you are…the first four of my eight recommendations for best practices on the appropriate manner to address unacceptable employee behavior and performance. I will share my remaining four best practice recommendations in my next post. Please remember to leave a comment and let me know what you think about my advice. Until next time, here’s to happy HR-ing!
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