Employers, are your managers afraid of their employees? During a recent discovery review, I noticed a trend in communication that seems to happen in many cases dealing with employee termination: managers communicating with each other about the deficiencies of employees, but never addressing the employees directly.
One might then read the employee’s communications in a vacuum and notice that the employee seemed oblivious to everything around him or her. In my most recent case, the employee even seemed happy and was receiving positive feedback from the vendors with whom she worked. In yet another case, the management team blatantly disregarded Human Resources’ recommendations, which created an internal conflict during the lawsuit. The collective issue is the employer’s failure to create a manager with the knowledge and skills to handle difficult situations.
This phenomenon occurs daily in the workplace. Managers who tip toe around employees, and seem willing to accept deficient behavior for months. Managers who are resigned to let employees fail instead of having a direct, uncomfortable conversation. Managers, who are not acting in the employer’s best interests and fail to control their areas of responsibility. But isn’t this the very definition of a manager?
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, a manager is “a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization.” And so begs the question, what are good guidelines to ensure your managers have the ability to act in the best interests of employees and thus the company without threatening, belittling or strong arming your management team?
Empower Your Managers
Empower is not a mere buzzword, it is a tool for successful supervisors. If a manager needs permission to carry out daily tasks or handle conversations with subordinates that individual is a manager in title only.
Managers that are well equipped with their mission, supporting policies and any additional rules, procedures and/or collective bargaining agreements will have a better chance at navigating difficult work situations easier than a manager who is being micromanaged or hand-held. If you are the higher up who would rather “do it yourself,” your middle managers will never learn to effectively supervise subordinates and you will never be free to carry out higher level discussions and goals. Empower your managers to supervise people and assignments and then, let them go.
Teach Managers How to Have Difficult Conversations
A new round of promotions has been handed out. Management is happy to have a new team member, and that new team member has a shiny new title with a hefty pay increase. Well, now what?
In addition to allowing that person to manage in accordance with company rules and policies, has that person been trained in handling difficult situations? Will they know what to do when an employee (perhaps a previous peer) yells at them, or acts in an insubordinate matter? Will your new manager know how to differentiate between an employee having an at-home issue or an at-work issue?
Chances are your new manager even has friends in the workplace that may resent that person’s new title and role. Your manager has to be able to sit down and have individual and/or group conversations within the context of all of these potentially negative and emotionally draining situations. Managers must be able to keep their own emotions in check, know de-escalation techniques and know when to seek help.
While some things are common sense, better results come from actual training. Teach your managers to have difficult conversations and watch their confidence increase with each difficult situation they are able to navigate.
Perhaps even more importantly from a risk perspective, make sure your managers have an understanding of the employment laws that apply in the workplace. Without this specific training, it will only be a matter of time before the manager says or does something that gives rise to legal action, or worse, liability. Most experienced employment attorneys are willing and able to train the management team.
Demonstrate how to Deal with Conflict Positively
Management teams must deal with conflict in a positive manner. This may seem elusive in the context of difficult situations—investigations, shouting matches, instances of dishonesty or even typical employee issues like attendance or poor performance.
There are some managers that can discipline an employee and have that employee feeling heard and supported, but there are others who use conflict as an opportunity to make himself or herself feel powerful. (This is a sure sign that the manager does not feel empowered and must create that feeling for himself or herself. See Section 1).
Do the highest positioned team members in your organization comport themselves professionally and with dignity no matter the circumstance? If the answer is yes, that will be reflected in the managers learning from those individuals.
Most management hires from the inside model behaviors they have seen, meaning their management style will reflect the culture that has been taught in the workplace. Even outside managers will give up, and adopt the culture they are brought into if the workplace is toxic when dealing with conflict. Positive conflict is not intuitive; it is a learned skill and should be demonstrated at the highest level of the organization.
Provide Employees Privacy and Opportunities to be Heard
The underlying problem with almost all employee terminations involves an ego problem or hurt feelings that were never addressed. Hurt feelings? Yes. All it takes is one negative comment in a room full of peers, hard questioning over a work assignment when the employee tried their very best, or other instances of legitimate feedback that were delivered in the wrong manner to create a spiral effect from hurt feelings.
Once this occurs, managers can become defensive because they know (or believe) they are in the right and employees spiral even further into despair because their egos have become involved. A solution to this issue is for managers to be the ones to control their emotions and timing of their feedback.
If an employee comes late to a meeting, do not announce to the room that the person is always late. Or, for example, if an employee has fallen short on a task, a manager should never take the immediate gratification route of showing authority by belittling or pointing out everything the employee could have done in front of other employees and team members.
Most everyone has a story, idea, or reason behind the behavior the manager perceives as inappropriate. Since that is the case, explore that reasoning in private and listen to the employee before jumping to conclusions and criticisms. However, when there are going to be tough conversations that may result in an adverse action, or when the employee has been acting hostile or threatening claims, conversations should never be held one on one, but with a member of the Human Resources team present as a witness.
Create Relationships Between Human Resources and Management
The reputation of your Human Resources team can make or break the success of your management team. In other words, if you want your management team to be successful, they must have a dynamic and positive inter-relationship with the Human Resources team.
If part of the empowerment process is knowing the company rules, policies and procedures, managers must know the Human Resources team can accurately provide them with information and support. Managers should know that, just as they are going to listen to subordinates and provide them with calming support, the Human Resources team is going to listen and assist the managers with carrying out the company’s goals. Managers must have great relationships with the Human Resources team to ensure success for themselves and others.
Employers, teach your managers to be ambassadors of your mission and expectations. EMPOWER. TEACH. DEMONSTRATE. PROVIDE. CREATE. The collective goal should always be a thoughtful and positive management team!
- Senior Attorney
Sydney R. Puricelli is a senior attorney in the firm's Bloomfield Hills office who provides counsel and representation exclusively to employers in the areas of labor law and employment liability.
Working for more than 15 years in the ...
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