Businesspeople arguing in meeting
Businesspeople arguing in meeting
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By Ezra Franco

As a business owner or Human Resource or line manager, there will be times you’ll have to tackle sensitive topics with employees.

Having a sit-down for a difficult conversation is probably the last thing you want to do, but it’s necessary for the overall health of your company.

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One employee’s disruptive behaviour can often impact your whole team in negative ways, and addressing it head-on is often the best way to be resolved.

There are some behavioural issues that an employee might display that may require your attention. These issues can impact other members of your team or disrupt the office environment, and lower productivity within the company. Some examples of disruptive behavioural issues include poor hygiene or poor cleanliness in the office, inappropriate dressing, absenteeism, using offensive language and the list goes on.

As uncomfortable as it may be to broach topics like these, there are ways you can prepare yourself for managing difficult conversations should they arise.

Build Early Trust

Tackling sensitive issues at the workplace starts from the ground. A culture of trust and transparency within your company is an important building block that sets you up for success when talking to your employees.

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 65% of employees surveyed said they trust the company they work for. That’s important because employees can be your business’ biggest advocates. Employees who trust in leadership are more likely to advocate for their company and its products and services.

Not only that but when employees know you have their back, sensitive conversations become easier. If employees feel they can trust you as their employer or manager, they are more likely to feel you have good intentions in approaching difficult conversations at work.

Check Your HR Policy

Before you schedule a meeting, talk to your HR person to help ensure that you’re approaching the conversation in a way that follows company policies. Be conscious of your words to avoid saying anything that may be discriminatory, and keep in mind that different cultures may have different norms or standards.

For instance, I knew a manager who once had to have a difficult conversation with an employee about his body odour. The employee had transferred to the U.S. from another country, where the norms around hygiene are very different. The manager had to tactfully explain U.S. hygiene standards and what was expected in the workplace.

If you don’t have an HR department — or you wear the HR hat yourself — you can seek guidance from other sources. Justworks customers can contact our HR support team, who will provide tips and advice. If you want to make sure your bases are covered regarding legal issues, particularly regarding discrimination, consult with an attorney when necessary.

  • Bring it Back to Business

Always make sure you tie the personal issue back to a business or performance concern. After all, you’re not having a difficult conversation just to meddle in someone’s personal life. You’re bringing up the issue because it directly impacts the individual’s or other employees’ ability to perform their jobs.

Behaviour, like swearing or being mean to a colleague, isn’t grounds for a harassment claim. However, it likely violates your company’s core values. Emphasize to the employee that they aren’t representing the values of the organization, and that this is a key part of being on your team.

  • Set Clear Expectations

It’s also important to be transparent about what your expectations are for the outcome of the conversation. If the issue goes beyond a personal concern and directly relates to poor job performance, make that very clear.

From that point, you may need to consider what disciplinary actions your company policy outlines, should the problem persist. If the employee doesn’t take steps toward the solution you agree upon, what will the consequences be?

Managing difficult conversations with employees is never easy. But by being clear, compassionate, and direct, you can help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and moving toward a solution.

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ADR Daily is a specialized news portal with a focus on providing authentic news, information and research analysis on Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR), Human Resource Management (HRM) and Industrial Relations Management (IRM) in Ghana and beyond. This platform serves as an information resource base for the progress of the ADR, HRM and IRM industries, and seeks to promote professionalism in ADR practice by supporting a network of ADR professionals within and across nations and continents. ADR Daily keenly encourages the mass adoption of ADR mechanisms, particularly negotiation, mediation and arbitration for the resolution of disputes in all spheres, through the publication of industry news and information, as well as by deploying innovative awareness creation engagements.