Let’s be honest. As a leader in your company, when you hear that an "employee relations issue" has surfaced, what is your first reaction? Does your pulse increase, your stomach start to hurt or a headache begin to form? Are you imagining that one of your employees is refusing to do what he is asked, one of your supervisors has said or done something you wish he hadn’t, or an outside agency is concerned about an incident within your organization?

Spending time planning how you will communicate, manage, develop and treat your staff members will pay dividends many times over. Failure to invest in creating a positive work environment can result in non-engaged staff, higher turnover and allegations of unfair treatment.

5 Common Manager Mistakes

Mistake # 1 – Assuming everyone wants to be coached the way you do or is motivated by the same things you are

Have you had a supervisor ever say to you, “I just don’t get why he/she isn’t doing what I told her to?”  Maybe the staff member isn’t hearing or understanding the request because of how the message is being delivered.  Perhaps the associate is not moving as quickly toward a deadline because she is compelled to perfect the product or service she is delivering while her manager is laser focused on hitting the due date with less concern for perfect execution. 

Solution:  In cases like this using a personality assessment instrument like DISC, Myers Briggs or StrengthFinders can be useful in helping managers and employees understand each other better.    Communication and coaching can then be aligned to how it is best understood and acted on.  If you know that an individual has a strong need for recognition for example, you can make sure you acknowledge his contributions frequently and publicly if appropriate.

Mistake # 2 – Avoiding an issue in the hopes it will resolve itself or otherwise go away

Employee relations issues usually do not age well.  When a supervisor is unhappy with a staff member’s performance or behavior and doesn’t bring it to the person’s attention it is unlikely to change.   Associates who are uncomfortable with something going on in the workplace often start disengaging with their work and feel less motivated to stay.  If they have gone so far to let anyone in management know of the issue, your failure to investigate and take immediate action – if warranted – could put you at risk of future claims, charges and litigation. 

Solution:  Provide ongoing feedback and “coach in the moment” as you witness positive and negative things happening in the workplace.  Don’t allow things to fester.  Encourage your staff to express their concerns and when they do, look into them right away. 

Mistake #3 – Considering it “insubordination” when an associate disagrees with what you want them to do

When a staff member suggests an alternative path to achieving an objective, do your managers bristle?  “Insubordination” may be in the eye of the beholder. Jumping to the conclusion that the individual is defying his boss’ authority may cause the individual to be unnecessarily disciplined.

Solution:  Taking time to talk to the associate to find out the “why” behind it can be invaluable.  Maybe there is a safety issue the supervisor isn’t aware of, or perhaps there is a less expensive, more efficient approach that the experienced staff member believes will work.  Clearly, if the employee is argumentative, hostile or creates a pattern of resisting management’s direction, you may need to take strong action.

Mistake #4 – Wanting to eliminate someone’s job rather than addressing performance issues because you think it is kinder/faster/easier

Doing the same thing, the same way, over and over will not keep you competitive in an ever changing world.  Employees must keep evolving and meeting the dynamic demands that arise.  Sometimes you have a good person whose job outgrows them or their performance starts to decline for a variety of reasons.  Not addressing the issue honestly prevents the individual from being aware something is wrong.  Eliminating the job puts the employee on the street and you lose the institutional knowledge that person possessed. 

Solution:  Be up front with your staff when their performance isn’t up to the standard needed.  Share your concerns, ask for them to build a plan to achieve the improvement goals and provide the support (re-training, tools, resources) they need. Consider what you can do to support the individual’s growth; education, coaching, and perhaps skill building workshops.

Mistake # 5 – Discussing more than you should with a trusted, valued team member about other associates

It can be lonely at the top.   As a leader you often wrestle with difficult situations.  When the situation involves an employee it can be emotional and you may think talking it through with another staff member may help you discern if the course of action you are contemplating is fair.  Indeed, sometimes just getting it off your chest with someone knowledgeable of the players can be cathartic.   The problem is when the confidant you spoke with lets something slip.  The confidentiality of the employee relations issues is compromised and your credibility evaporates.

Solution:  Confine your conversations involving staff members to your manager, your HR Business Partner or the Executive Team who may need to be aware of an issue and the actions you plan to take. 

Avoiding common employee relations mistakes usually centers on improving communications; being more open, honest and timely with feedback to staff members and ensuring the confidentiality of discussions.

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