Difficult conversations are a fact of life in any workplace. They can involve delivering difficult feedback or discussing behavioural issues, so are often important to an organisation’s overall performance. As a result, managers have to accept responsibility and develop the skills necessary to deal with difficult workplace conversations.
Meetings regarding grievances and disciplinary cases are two of the more common difficult conversations managers may have to have with employees. The best way for managers to deal with these types of conversations is to plan, familiarise themselves with relevant policy and have confidence in their own skills.
Some issues can be prevented before they get out of control and require further action. If you spot the warning signs of a conflict between employees or think that something might be wrong, a quiet word can diffuse a situation.
With a grievance or disciplinary situation it’s best to be direct with employees. Trying to ‘sugar coat’ a problem with compliments or subtlety will only lead to the message becoming muddled, so don’t hesitate to be honest about what you need an employee to do.
Managers should maintain regular contact with employees and their team. If a manager is seen as being approachable, then people are far more likely to come to them to discuss an issue when it arises.
Establish the facts
If a grievance or disciplinary case escalates to a formal stage, then managers will have to be control. They can do this by arming themselves with the facts. What aspect of the employee’s conduct has been unacceptable? Have they breached any particular policy?
For example, if attendance is the issue, there should be an accurate record of the employee’s timekeeping. If they’ve already been spoken to about it through regular feedback, then they have already been given the chance to improve and disciplinary action shouldn’t come as a surprise.
An investigator should draft a plan. This should include timescale, and the sources of evidence that will collect. Written statistics and records are best as they are irrefutable, but witness statements, CCTV and emails are important sources that can reveal the bigger picture.
Your organisation’s policies and procedures on discipline and grievances should outline the action you need to take. For example, if your business has a trigger point for sickness absence levels, then you need to know what it is and act accordingly.
The policy will outline the process you need to follow and inform the appropriate action or outcome, such as setting new targets and improvements to be reviewed within a realistic timescale.