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employee relations | HR Off-Site

Be A Positive Force At Work

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Everyone’s job is important in some way, to someone. Whether you run your own business, tend a garden, work a machine, assemble parts or answer the phone, your work impacts other people’s work. And that makes it important.

If you employ or manage people, you are charged with an awesome responsibility: leadership. Never take that privilege for granted. Make being a positive force at work your new year’s resolution for 2014.

A good way to start is to remember that each person you work with is a continually developing individual shaped by his or her unique personality, experiences and family circumstances. The way you behave towards them not only makes a difference in their lives, it influences how they treat others in your workplace. Your presence and way of “being” may calm or disturb, create or destroy. You may bring serenity and harmony to the busyness of the day, or you may stir up negativity and resentment. You may be the empathetic friendly face, the supportive leader who is genuinely there in the moment, present and willing to do what it takes. Or, you may be the one who takes misplaced credit or who is always there to offer a backhanded, hurtful comment in the guise of advice or ‘just saying’. It’s up to you.

Consider also the positive forces that could combine to make your workplace better, more than just a place where you have to go to earn money. With your personal contribution, the workday can afford you an opportunity to witness tremendous achievements and moments of ‘personal best’. You have a choice, your role, whether supportive or not, caring or destructive, is up to you.

You may wonder how you can make a difference in an established workplace, with people who have been there forever or who have dominating personalities that leave little room for a different approach. It’s daunting alright, but consider this: what kind of workplace would you be building if you walk away from an unkind comment or refuse to be engaged in a verbal tug of war? Your change of behaviour, your decision to behave with dignity at all times, regardless of circumstances, can be a tremendous catalyst for change.

One of the most powerful ways you can influence the workplace is through what you say, and how you say it. Have you ever blurted out unkind or hurtful words that you immediately wished you could take back? Words hurt, especially when delivered in the absence of compassion, and they have the power to create conflict or calm. So, watch your words.

Beyond what you can do personally, talk to your managers to discuss what can be done from their perspective to create a positive workplace. Think of ways to connect with your team through reading groups or hobbies such as baking, quilting or fitness activities. Everything you have in common will bring you closer to workplace harmony as the topic of conversation moves from gossip to constructive conversation.

You can make positive differences in other ways as well. Look for opportunities to re-balance; schedules, duties, and working hours are often common annoyances. With minor adjustments these dis-satisfiers may become satisfiers. Consider establishing a positive workplace team that is charged with responsibility to encourage harmony through social activities and community contribution. Many not–for-profit organizations, seniors centres and charities welcome volunteers.

Standing tall in the face of overbearing personalities, unkind words and behaviour is empowering for managers and employees alike. Each of us can make a difference by being the voice of reason and demonstrating the unflappable strength of one person deciding to be a positive force at work.

Managing Leadership Turnover

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While there are some variations in the translations of the quote by Greek philosopher Heraclitus  “nothing endures but change” or “the only constant is change,” one thing is certain: workplace relationships and productivity suffer when changes are clumsily introduced.

Among the most difficult changes for employees to handle is a change in their manager. Whether the change is due to a transfer of duties, promotion or departure from the company, reporting to a new boss is worrisome to most employees. Some may even see it as job-threatening. How your employees deal with this depends to a great extent to how safe they feel in their current role.

Generally, employees whose performance has been assessed and for which feedback has been provided are in the best shape. They know their standing in the company and will use that knowledge to help them if they become insecure. Employees who don’t know, or who are on performance improvement plans are often more insecure. They tend to fret more and their fear may compel them to engage in unproductive behaviour such as speculation or gossip.

Fear of change is natural, but there is a lot that owners and managers can do to help their teams during management transitions:

  1. Let staff know of the change as soon as possible. Provide information about timeframes.
  2. Let staff know what they can expect in the immediate future. Be as open as you can be given the circumstances. Consider holding a live five-minute meeting with local staff and sending out an announcement email confirming the information.
  3. Communicate the anticipated impact of the change on the business, customers and suppliers.
  4. State your expectations that team members will continue to work to their usual high standards during the transition.
  5. Explain how you will go about finding a replacement. If you will be recruiting, let staff know the timeline and any interim arrangements that will be made.
  6. Check in with employees frequently. This is especially important during the first few weeks. Just because you haven’t heard anything, doesn’t mean your employees aren’t worried.
  7. Provide periodic general updates on the status of the recruiting process.
  8. When you’ve made your decision, prepare an announcement to introduce the new manager. Whether he or she is from inside or outside the company, use this communication to provide a brief summary of the new manager’s professional background and anticipated contribution to the company in the new role. Some employers use this communication to share some personal information, such as the names of the new manager’s partner and children. This is optional and if you are considering this, be sure to have the new manager’s full consent to do so.
  9. Conduct a thorough on-boarding. Even if the new manager is transferred from within the company, there will be distinct differences in expectations and responsibilities.
  10. Be sure to set goals to ensure that the manager is adapting well to his or her new role. Consider setting a goal related to getting to know the team and ensuring that your employees receive the attention they deserve.

The early days in any new position can be hectic and potentially overwhelming for the manager. Help both your employees and your new manager succeed with open and frequent communication. No matter what kind of business you’re in, this is an important practice. It encourages employees to share their concerns and ideas and helps keep management and frontline staff on the same side.

12 Ways to Tackle Difficult Conversations

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As a business owner or manager, there are times when you need to have a conversation with an employee that you don’t want to have. The topic might be awkward, such as body odour, gossip and poor timekeeping, or a game changer such as unsafe work habits and performance gaps. The cost of avoiding these difficult conversations and leaving these situations unresolved is likely higher than you think. If you’re noticing the problem, chances are other employees and perhaps even your customers are noticing it as well.

According to a 2008 study conducted by the executive development firm CPP Inc., workplace conflict is a nearly universal occurrence, with 85% of all workers spending more than two hours per week dealing with conflict. What does this mean to your business? In financial terms, if you have 24 employees, 20 of them claim to spend at least two hours a week dealing with conflict. That’s 40 hours per week or 2080 hours per year! You’d have to hire one more full-time person just to make up for the productivity lost due to conflict. Given the fact that workplace conflict can also lead to stress, illness, absence from work, harassment, violence, labour complaints and failed plan execution, what is it doing to your customers, your profits and your company as a whole?

One of the keys to preventing and reducing workplace conflict is to deal with situations when you first become aware of them. Taking immediate action often is enough to change an outcome, show leadership and create positive and lasting results. Waiting until the problem is so big that it has to be dealt under unfavourable conditions, such as in response to a complaint or when an accident occurs, puts you at a real disadvantage. By then, you may have become emotionally charged, perhaps full of frustration or anger. In this case, risk is increased and the chances of a positive outcome are reduced.

It doesn’t really matter why we tend to avoid having the conversations we most need to have. The real issue is how to deal with the difficult issues with the least amount of pain. Here are 12 tips for tackling difficult conversations:

  1. Deal with the matter as soon as you become aware of it.
  2. If the topic is sensitive or emotionally charged, prepare the person in advance by letting them know that a meeting is planned and what you will be talking about.
  3. Be gentle. No one likes to be scolded, so be professional and keep your composure.
  4. Be sure to ask questions to clarify the facts of the situation, unless you have first-hand knowledge.
  5. Listen carefully and hold your judgements until you understand all angles of the situation.
  6. Be as direct as possible while using empathy to engage the other person.
  7. Steer clear of small talk. It can minimize the importance of the conversation.
  8. Stay on target and discuss only the matter at hand. Dragging up old gripes and grumbles will divert you from the purpose of the conversation. If the employee brings up other matters, consider scheduling a separate meeting to address those issues.
  9. Share with the employee why the matter is important to you and the business, and what effect their behaviour is having on other employees and customers, as well as the potential employment impact.
  10. Clearly state your expectations. Be specific about what you the person to start or stop doing.
  11. Document the meeting, have the employee acknowledge the content and and provide a copy for their records.
  12. Follow up. This is an important, often overlooked step. It’s tempting to think, “Whew… I’m glad that’s done with,” but you likely won’t know if your expectations have been met until some time has passed and you’ve asked for feedback from the employee and others.

Even in workplaces that boldly encourage engagement, difficult conversations are often avoided. This works to everyone’s detriment. Do yourself and your company a favour and create an environment of early conversation, before difficult enters the equation.

Take a Win Win Approach to Employee Relations

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“While flexible, family-friendly policies take some effort to develop and implement, they are already the best practices for employers.”

In an ideal world, the goals of your employees would be perfectly aligned with the goals of your business. In the real world, this happens less often. People play many different roles as they progress through various stages of their lives. Whether you are an employer or an employee, you may also be a spouse, a parent, a neighbor and a friend. Additionally, you may be a community volunteer or the caregiver for an elderly relative. On top of it all, you need time to take care of your own physical and mental well-being. Achieving balance among these competing priorities is a challenge for most people.

Employee relations issues can result when employees feel overwhelmed by this challenge. Work-life conflict is sometimes a root cause of employee absenteeism, lateness and distractedness. Over time, such conflict may move beyond being a source of stress for the employee and an annoyance to the employer, to threatening the very employment relationship itself. For employers, one of the best ways to break the impasse and keep team members engaged is to think beyond corrective action and traditional disciplinary processes. Instead, focus on creating win-win situations.

If you have an employee who seems to be struggling with maintaining a full-time job, an opportunity to consider a voluntary schedule change or reduction in work hours may be welcome. The options you offer could be virtually any variation of the hours of work, including working family shifts or fewer days per week.

Family shifts allow parents to start later in the morning after the children leave for school, and to leave earlier to pick them up. The family time a parent gains and the money saved by not having to pay for children’s after-school care may more than offset the income loss associated with reduced work hours. The result is a win-win for the employer, the employee, and the family, and may possibly result in the creation of a new part-time opportunity for somebody else.

Working fewer days per week can be a good option for an older employee who wants or needs to slow down. This kind of arrangement can start anywhere from one year to five years prior to the person’s planned retirement date. Achieving a win-win in this case might be to allow the older employee to work fewer days per week, yet retain his or her medical, dental and drug benefits. Such a solution not only accommodates the aging employee’s personal energy level, it allows your business to keep benefitting from that person’s expertise, and might even create an opportunity for a younger employee to develop through mentorship by the person transitioning to retirement.

If you decide to explore these types of changes in your workplace, be sure to consider the fine details, such as how your company’s current policies, employment agreements and benefits may be affected. You may also need to review the allocation of job duties and any impact there could be on current pension and retirement plans, or on time-off provisions such as vacation. A Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) can help. While flexible, family-friendly policies take some effort to develop and implement, they are already the best practices for employers. Adopting such policies not only recognizes the complexities of modern life, which helps to attract the best people, it inspires the highest levels of employee loyalty and commitment, creating a true win-win for both your employees and your business.