Talk to your employees

“Have you spoken to them? Why haven’t you spoken to them?”

I would hear this from a colleague on a frequent basis when she was talking to employers. We would often talk to companies about an employee who is driving everyone crazy, and everyone is telling each other about what terrible things this person is doing wrong. Everyone that is, except the problem employee.

Employees cannot be relied upon to learn by osmosis. The Fair Work Commission certainly doesn’t expect them to. And have you ever felt like an idiot, because you’d have done the right thing, if only someone had said?
This is not about giving a formal warning (see separate blog), although in some cases it may be a precursor to this. This is about sitting down with an employee and having honest communication about what is expected of them. So, where do we start? What do we want to achieve?

Unless you run a modelling agency, you aren’t hiring people for their good looks. You need them to do a job, which makes you money. Start by writing down what they are doing wrong. This will help clarify for yourself, and the employee, what the issues are. Plus, when you sit down to talk with the employee, you will have an agenda. Think about why these things may be happening. Has the person had proper training? Are they supervised? Is this out of the blue for a long term employee? Is this a school leaver’s first job? Could they be overloaded?
Next, actually make the time to sit down with the person and talk. This needs to be in private, with no interruptions. Use your agenda from earlier to guide this talk. Tell them it is not a formal warning. That at this point it is just a talk. Give specific examples (eg: on the 7th of January, at 11 am, you did this). Ask their side of the story. Take notes.

Neither party needs to have (or is entitled to) a support person at this point. But think about having a trusted person in the room, or just outside the room, if you think you could be accused or bullying or harassment.
If you can work out resolutions between you at this point, then great. But this may not happen straight away. If necessary, take the time to think about their responses, or talk with someone you trust. You might need to research issues, such as talking to coworkers, before having an answer and a way forward.

So often employers tell me what a relief it was to talk to their employee, and what they found out about the person has made such a difference to the employment relationship. That from this point on the job they wanted done, got done. On the other hand, it sometimes triggers a resignation, which is often a good outcome too, if the issues were attitude based.