8 Tips for Handling Tough Employee Conversations

We all get cold feet when it comes to addressing difficult issues with colleagues in the workplace. It’s stressful, and you just can’t help but think of all of the ways that a well-meaning conversation could go sideways. You worry about the longer-lasting effects of a damaged work relationship but know that you must correct problematic work performance or behaviors before they get out of control.

Uncomfortable conversations about personal behaviors and poor performance are tough, and putting them off just allows the problems to worsen. Use your knowledge of the situation and put together the right combination of management skills to tackle the talk now.

Imagine these all-too-familiar employee situations that you know you need to address but don’t think you have the wisdom (or can’t muster up the courage) to handle:

  • The “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” situation. For the past several months, one of your team members has been underperforming, and it has dragged down your business unit’s productivity. The underperforming employee has shared that she has a number of family and financial issues and is trying her hardest to stay focused on work because she needs this job and loves the company. She lives your company values and is well-liked by her co-workers. Everyone feels bad for her situation and has been picking up the slack, but they are growing resentful of the extra work with no end in sight. You’ve been trying to be kind by avoiding the issues as her performance has slid from bad to worse. It is now impacting your company’s overall performance and degrading the employee relations climate.
  • The “Bad Behavior, Great Performer” situation. One of your employees consistently exceeds his production goals at the expense of the company culture. He is highly critical of others, issues demands from other work teams without regard for their other priorities, and employees grudgingly drop everything to deliver on impossible deadlines because they believe that they cannot push back. It’s all about him and his performance. He is regularly recognized by the company leadership for being the top producer, and employee complaints to management about his behavior have not been addressed. While production goals are good, your company culture is sinking and you’re starting to see increased absenteeism and turnover among your staff.

Don’t Overlook the Signals

In addition to employee resentment and lost productivity, there’s a bottom-line impact for not tackling these tough talks at the right time and in the right manner. The key is to pay attention to the signals and not feed the problem with neglect.

In the first scenario, trying to be a kind and sensitive boss worked in the beginning but is now backfiring. At first the team worked together to help their struggling colleague, but without a plan to fix the problem in the longer term, it created three serious issues for you to fix: employee morale, lack of confidence in your leadership for missing the signals of “team fatigue,” and not having a plan to keep the team on track — all resulting in lost productivity.

The best thing you can do in situations like these is to work with the struggling employee to develop a plan that puts her back on track or helps her consider alternatives if necessary. This type of conversation requires sensitivity along with some firmness because you need to steer the conversation from the personal issues back to actionable work deliverables.

In my experience dealing with circumstances like the second scenario, typically management allows the top performer’s behavior to go unchecked for fear that if the employee is corrected his performance will suffer or he will quit the company. While there may be an element of truth to those concerns if the individual is unwilling to accept constructive feedback, the bigger fear should be for the company’s culture, employee erosion of trust and confidence in the leadership team, and the motivation, performance, and retention of the other company employees if the behavior is not changed.

Often the top performer continues to use the same work patterns that have been successful and isn’t even aware of the impact on others. Addressing the issues sensitively so that he can make personal changes has the potential to create even higher levels of team unity and performance.

What Signals are You Looking For?

For starters, watch your team’s interactions with each other, be sure that each team member understands their key performance objectives, and take the time to “check in” regularly and solicit feedback about the job, work team, and overall company with each employee.

Having direct conversations on a regular basis helps you nip problems in the bud and shows your employees that you care about their concerns. You also learn each other’s communication patterns so that when it comes time to have that awkward or difficult conversation, you both are less uncomfortable.

Groups where team members work remotely increase the chances that signals can be missed. When telecommuting is coupled with the use of instant messaging and other forms of communications in place of direct face-to-face or voice communications, the sender’s well-intentioned messages may get lost in translation. Be sure to follow up any electronic communications with a direct phone call or meeting.

Eight Tips for Tackling These Conversations

Strategies to manage conflicts with subordinates are not fully taught in business classes. More common are courses addressing project conflicts, where the focus is on fixing the “what” of the problem, such as resetting priorities, changing business plans, or repairing broken systems or processes. There are fewer tools focusing on how teams communicate and repairing broken business relationships. Preparation and planning are critical to get what you need from these hard conversations while keeping your relationship with the employee intact.

  1. Focus your own viewpoint first. If you start out thinking the conversation will be really hard, you’re going to be more anxious. Chances are the conversation will be harder. Instead, position this discussion as a means to enhance your relationship while helping your employee develop better skills, understand company priorities better, or work more positively on the team. Think about how you can deliver the difficult talking points with honesty, courage and fairness.
  2. Recognize the emotions you will be feeling. Are you disappointed in this employee? Angry about the problems they’ve caused? Scared that your conversation will damage your work relationship? Put your negative feelings aside and consider how you will frame the problem you need to discuss and how your employee may feel. Try to come at the discussion with consideration and compassion for their feelings and frame the conversation with a desire for the employee’s success. “John, we need to have a hard conversation today, and I’m feeling anxious because I want you to win. Please know that I am invested in your success and will work with you to make that happen.”
  3. Be intentional in planning the conversation, but don’t script it out so that your delivery sounds mechanical. Some consultants suggest drafting a script and considering alternatives based on the employee’s reactions. In my experience, these conversations never go completely according to plan, and scripted conversations feel artificial. Instead, write down key points and plan as if you are just having a simple conversation with a colleague. Be prepared to provide specifics and pace your conversation so that you take time to gauge your employee’s reactions to your comments. Your employee may react defensively if you provide vague statements. Instead of saying, “Sue, people in the company are telling me that you are difficult to work with and have a bad attitude,” frame the issue with examples, such as, “Sue, I am concerned because I’ve noticed in the last four team meetings you arrived late and weren’t prepared with project updates. As a result, both Joe and Sam missed their deliverables, and you didn’t let any of us know in advance that the timeline was slipping.”
  4. Recognize that you own part of the problem, too. Your goal is to have a conversation between adults where each owns some responsibility for the issue and solving the problem. This takes the conversation from finding fault to finding solutions. “Rob, I realize now that you have too many priorities and I didn’t provide you with the resources to deliver on the project. I also realize that I avoided addressing the problem at the beginning of the project and let it go too long without discussing it with you.”
  5. Outline what you want changed. Don’t just discuss the problem; describe the end result you envision. Discuss realistic and achievable outcomes and be willing to offer resources and assistance as appropriate.
  6. Ask the employee for his or her viewpoints. The last thing you want is a one-sided conversation. Slow the pace of the conversation, observe the employee’s reactions to your comments, and ask for feedback and suggestions for solving the problem. You may learn new information about what may have caused the problem, and the employee could offer even better solutions than you thought possible. Throughout the conversation, look for areas of consensus and acknowledge the employee’s feelings and concerns. That shows respect.
  7. End the conversation on a positive note with an action plan. Thank the employee for working with you through the difficult discussion. Acknowledge that it was a tough conversation and express appreciation for the employee’s professionalism as you both work towards a better outcome. Develop a going-forward action plan to solve the problem. “Tom, this was a hard talk, and I know it wasn’t easy for you. You provided some good ideas for fixing the issue, and I appreciate your professionalism. You can do this, and I am here to help you win.”
  8. Close the loop and follow up. Give the employee a little time to reflect on the discussion, but no more than a day or two. Follow up and ask the employee if they would like to have another discussion to cover any additional information or clarification. Put the agreed-upon action plan in writing, schedule regular status meetings, and recognize progress and improved performance. Taking these steps demonstrates your respect for the employee and desire for them to succeed.

Keep the Conversation Going

Great managers keep the conversation going to ensure team members are aligned and supporting each other to create a healthy corporate culture and successful company. When problems arise, they have the tough conversations to get things back on track. Handling these discussions well takes courage as well as empathetic listening and communications skills. Pay attention to the signals, develop your communications plan, and you’ll be more confident in tackling your next tough employee communications challenge.

How To Handle Difficult Employees

Every employer will have to deal with a difficult employee eventually. Sometimes, a serious conversation is all that’s needed to solve the problem. At other times, you might need to bring in HR. Here are seven types of troublesome employees and what you can do to handle the issues they bring.

The LOAFER: Known for goofing off, the loafer does just enough work to get by, while other employees have to pick up the slack. Unsurprisingly, this can cause resentment. Have a candid conversation, telling the loafer to focus on doing their job, not on wasting time. And reward those who pick up the slack.

The MALCONTENT: The grump in the group, the malcontent can squelch other’s ideas and lower morale with just a few words. Talk with them to discover the cause of their discontent and encourage them to offer potential solutions alongside any complaints they raise.

The MEDDLER: Extremely nosy, the meddler is known to ask personal or rude questions. Worse yet, they’re quick to share what they’ve learned. If your goal is a harmonious workplace, have the difficult conversation. Tell the meddler to focus on their work, not other people’s business.

The NARCISSIST: Desperate to be the center of attention, the narcissist puts their ego above the needs of the company. Assign them to projects where their strengths and skills will shine, while encouraging them to give credit to their hardworking coworkers.

The THIEF: Shady and manipulative, the thief lies and maybe even steals from your company. This makes other employees uneasy and scared. Don’t let your guard down when dealing with the thief. Instead, investigate discreetly. If you have hard evidence they’ve stolen from you, seek legal advice before confronting them.

The VICTIM: Excuses, excuses. With the victim, it’s always someone else’s fault. Counter this behavior by explaining it’s not about assigning blame. You don’t expect perfection, but you do expect people to help solve problems when they arise, not point a finger.

The YELLER: From shrieking laughter to loud chatter, the yeller can distract and annoy others. Sure, they may not realize how disruptive they are, but people need to get work done. Be direct and tactful when you tell them to lower their volume. After all, what you’re asking is reasonable.

You Can’t Wear That! Dealing With An Employee Who Dresses Inappropriately

If you’re a small business owner with staff, at some point you’re going to have to deal with a sticky, employee-related situation. Whether it’s an employee who’s always out sick, staff who look for sneaky ways to abuse benefit privileges or team members being careless on social media, your people may make choices that don’t suit your business—including what they wear to work.

It’s a situation no business owner wants to face, but you and your employees may not be on the same page when it comes to appropriate work attire. As workplace dress codes continue to get more casual across the country, business owners and their staff may struggle to determine what’s acceptable to wear at work and why.

Use these tips to determine how to communicate with staff when an employee dresses inappropriately.

1. Have an answer for ‘Why Can’t I Wear This?’

It’s important that all members of your staff understand why certain clothing items or styles aren’t acceptable in your workplace, and that sometimes it’s about more than just making a good impression. For instance, if you work in an environment with machinery, tools, heavy equipment or other potential dangers, inappropriate clothing may not adequately protect  your workers. Even worse, some clothing, such as wide, loose sleeves, may interfere with equipment and pose a safety hazard.

2. Send out reminders when necessary.

Sometimes, the best way to deal with a minor “wardrobe infraction” is to post a reminder list on the wall in the break room or send out a simple company-wide email reminding your staff of the expected dress code. This subtle reminder may be all that’s required to get the attention of the specific offender, plus any others who may be tempted to stray toward inappropriate clothing choices for work. If this doesn’t work, though, prepare to talk to the staff member in question.

3. Be really specific about acceptable work clothing.

When communicating to your employee about what is and isn’t acceptable attire, be as specific as possible. Explain that what they’re wearing isn’t safe while working at a lathe, for example. Also prepare to clearly explain what’s included in any terminology you use. Instead of saying that your employee should avoid “casual wear,” specify that they should avoid “weekend casual wear” and list the clothing items that are included in this category.

For example, your non-acceptable “weekend” casual wear list could include:

  • Athletic shoes
  • Flip-flops
  • Sweatpants or yoga pants
  • Hats
  • Hoodies and sweatshirts
  • Halter tops
  • Crop-tops (belly-baring shirts)
  • Jeans

And your acceptable “business casual” list could include:

  • Khakis
  • Cotton trousers
  • Skirts
  • Blouses
  • Polo shirts
  • Pullover sweaters
  • Cardigans

The key is to clearly communicate to all your staff what is and isn’t acceptable work attire.

4. Understand the do’s and don’ts for talking about inappropriate clothing.

Before you talk to your employee about his or her clothing choices, review this list of what to do and what to avoid.

Do

  • Make the conversation easier by preparing. Make sure you are well-versed on your company dress code, and more importantly, that your dress code is legally compliant.
  • Choose a private setting to talk to the staff member, so you can address the issue without embarrassing them in front of others.
  • Choose your words carefully. For example, “I’ve noticed your clothing choices, which, though they may be appropriate outside of our office/shop/business, are not in keeping with our dress code. I’d appreciate your cooperation in making some minor changes.”
  • Introduce your meeting as a time clarify your dress code and make sure your employee understands it.
  • Be specific about the problem. For example, “The shoes you’re wearing expose your toes, so they don’t meet the safety requirement of closed-toe shoes in our dress code.”

Don’t

  • Attend alone, especially when speaking with an opposite-sex employee. Bring in another staff member.
  • Make it a personal attack on the  person’s character. This is about the clothing they wear at work, not an attack on their lifestyle, religion or political choices.
  • Use the word “improve.” If you do, it may sound like you’re dealing with a performance issue.

5. Have “The Talk” with your employee.

If an employee wears something inappropriate after you’ve sent out a group email, it’s time to talk specifically to them. Keep in mind the information from tips three and four, and act quickly.

“Don’t delay taking action—even if just verbally and even if you learn of the infraction long after it occurs,” says human resources consultant Linda Michaels. Clearly point out any dress code violations plus how to remedy them.

Discussions about acceptable workplace clothing can be uncomfortable. They require a sensitive and delicate approach. To keep inappropriate clothing at work from becoming an extended issue, the best strategies are to head it off before it even starts and address any wardrobe infractions immediately.

How to Spot and Mitigate Employee Discontent

Every good employer wants to have a workplace where employees feel content and satisfied. While the reality is that it is not going to possible to please everyone all of the time, you may be able to spot discontent and take steps to mitigate it before you lose good employees. By taking a proactive approach to spotting and mitigating discontent, you may improve satisfaction, thereby lowering your turnover rate and possibly increasing productivity.

Signs That Employees Are Not Content

Discontent with a workplace rarely arises suddenly. Usually an employee will gradually become discontent over time because of different experiences within the workplace. You may begin to notice subtle changes, though these changes may not be readily identifiable as discontent at first.

Signs that an employee may be discontent include:

  • Slips in work performance
  • Disinterest in attending company events
  • Distancing from peers, even as it pertains to social situations
  • Bad moods or behavioral changes
  • Coming in late or leaving early
  • Disagreeing with management or creating friction
  • Gossiping about peers or managers

Ways to Address the Problem

If you have spotted signs of discontent, the first course of action should be to talk to the employee that seems to be discontent. In some cases, the discontent may actually stem from personal issues at home and have nothing to do with the workplace. In many cases, however, the employee is upset about a work situation.

Open Up Communication Lines

During the initial conversation about discontent, the employee may clam up due to nervousness or other emotions. It is important to let the employee know that they can come to you to discuss anything that they may be upset with in the future. Opening up the communication lines in this way –for all of the employees – may help to address discontent before it gets a foothold.

Really Listen and Respond to Employee Concerns

Hearing employees out is only half the battle, really listening and taking action based on those concerns is what will actually help to mitigate the discontent. While it may not be possible or sensible to make big changes based on everything that employees complain about, just taking the time to listen and explain why certain things must stay the way they are can help employees to feel more content.

Admit Mistakes and Move Forward

Sometimes employees are discontent because of the actions of a manager or employer. If this is the case, simply admitting the mistake or acknowledging the situation and working to move forward may assuage the discontent. Actions may need to be taken to prevent the same incident from occurring in the future, but admitting the mistake can go a long way toward making an employee feel valued.

Maintaining Contentment

After you have spotted and worked to mitigate discontent, the work is not done. It is important to use the information learned in order to improve the way that employees feel about the company and to prevent future discontent. Complimenting employee performance and checking in with employees to make sure that they feel valued may also help to prevent future stirrings of discontent.

7 Exit Interview Questions That May Help Prevent Your Next Vacancy

An exit interview is a prime opportunity for you to learn what your company could do better. Employees that already have at least one foot out the door are often more likely to be open and honest with you, as they have less at stake and aren’t looking to score brownie points. The following questions go above and beyond the standard “what did/didn’t you like about your job” and really get to the heart of what you can do better for your employees.

1. Why did you begin looking for a new job?

There is often one specific instance that motivated an employee to hit the job ads and start searching for a new place of employment. Encourage honesty in this answer, because the drive is often a disagreement with management. Whether it was a day with limited staff, a short-fused coworker, or a policy that didn’t click, the answers can all reveal how you can help prevent your next vacancy.

2. Did you feel that you were adequately recognized for your achievements?

Recognition isn’t the only important factor, but can go a long way in making an employee feel valued. If an employee that’s leaving answers “no,” find out what type of recognition they would have been satisfied with and why they feel the current system is inadequate.

3. Were you sufficiently trained for your role?

A large number of employees cite “insufficient training” as a reason for leaving a place of employment. There may be training gaps that you don’t notice that can be highlighted in an exit interview. Find out how training can be improved to more sufficiently prepare future employees.

4. Did you feel comfortable talking to your manager?

If there is a problem with the manager, an employee may feel trapped and unable to resolve their issue. In some cases, it seems like the easiest scenario is to quit. While this isn’t the only reason for leaving, too many employees cite problems with management for you to ignore this question during an exit interview.

5. Were your work goals and assignments reasonable and well communicated?

Overwhelmed employees aren’t happy or satisfied, neither are employees that feel that expectations aren’t being communicated. Identify whether employees feel goals are clear and reasonable so that you can make adjustments if necessary.

6. What would have influenced you to stay here?

While you won’t be able to accommodate every employee and convince them to stay, you may get an idea of what could be done better to reduce turnover by asking this question. If the employee is leaving to pursue a career in a completely different industry or type of company, their answers may not be completely applicable, but could still provide some insight. If their answers aren’t far fetched at all, you may just be able to win them back in the future.

7. Did you feel that the company culture was the right fit for you?

Company culture is incredibly important to employees’ daily life, but difficult to alter or nail down. It can be even more elusive for managers, as employees may alter their behavior when manager eyes are watching. An employee that is leaving is the perfect person to give you the inside scoop on the true culture that may be hiding.

Why should you improve your employee onboarding program?

Employee onboarding is a very method used in talent acquisition.
If done right, employee onboarding process can easily become your secret weapon for hiring and retaining talent.

A successful employee onboarding program ensures that your best candidate actually shows up on their first day at the new job.

This is because a successful employee onboarding process starts at the moment your best candidate accepts your offer.
If you don’t engage you best candidates until their start date, they might accept a better offer or a counteroffer from their current employer.

It also helps to improve retention, engagement, satisfaction, and productivity of your new employees.

According to the Society For Human Resources Management (SHRM):

  • 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding.
  • Organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new-hire productivity.
  • 54% of companies with onboarding programs reported higher employee engagement.

3 best employee onboarding tips

Here are the best 3 tips that will help get the most out of your onboarding program:

Tip #1: Plan and organize 

If you want to maximize the power of your onboarding process, you need to carefully structure it. To learn how, check out our step-by-step Guide on how to successfully onboard new employees.

Keep in mind that:

  1. A successful onboarding is a process
    A successful employee onboarding is not an event that takes place on your new employee’s first day at the office. It is a continuous process that starts at the moment your best candidate accepts your job offer.
  2. A successful onboarding is people oriented
    A successful employee onboarding is not focused on tasks, but on people.
    The human touch drives onboarding success.  The secret of great onboarding is the fact that it makes your new employees feel welcomed and integrated into your company culture from the day one!

Tip #2: Automate 

Automating your employee onboarding process will help you save time and your nerves. There are many different employee onboarding tools you can use to easily automate your onboarding process.

There are 3 main types of employee onboarding tools:

  1. Checklists: Checklists are the most simple and straightforward tool that can help you onboard new employees.
  2. Specialized tools: Specialized employee onboarding tools are tools created for the sole purpose of improving the employee onboarding process.
  3. Integrated tools: Integrated tools are comprehensive, all-in-one tools that offer solutions for your whole HR management process, including payroll, benefits, time and attendance, etc.

Tip#3: Be creative 

To make your new employees’ onboarding experience truly unique, you need to get creative! Luckily for you, we compiled the best and the most innovative employee onboarding ideas and examples from experts to inspire you!

Here are 3 simple, but creative employee onboarding ideas you can easily implement:

  1. Welcome GIF or video: Gather your team and create a welcome video for your new employee!
    If your employees shy away from a camera or you don’t have enough time on your hands, go with the quicker version – create a welcome GIF!
  2. Decorate your new employee’s desk: Decorate your new employee’s desk with some balloons, welcome sign and maybe even some cake! You can also pack your company swag (such as branded notebook, pens, T-shirt, water bottle, etc.) as a present!
  3. 100th-day party: Throwing a 100 day on the job party for your employees is a great opportunity to shower them with some attention and remind them how much you are happy to have them joined your company.

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