No matter what your size of business, if you have employees you will eventually deal with an employee issue. Most small business owners and supervisors dread these situations because they are unfamiliar with how to manage them. But just because you may have an employee issue, doesn’t mean it has to end badly. The key to these situations, is not allowing them to go unaddressed.
Failure to address employee issues.
By not addressing employee issues you introduce a host of problems into your organization. First, it become infectious. Other employees notice the behavior goes unaddressed, so some will infer they can get away with the same type of behavior. Second, it adversely affects your good employees. Good employees notice the behavior and feel that they should not even bother to perform if there are no repercussions of tardiness, absenteeism, etc. Third, it jeopardizes your credibility as a manager, supervisor, or business owner if you allow issues to go unaddressed. Finally, and most importantly, it affects the organization’s productivity and ultimately, it’s profitability.
Communicating Employee issues.
There are good methods and bad methods to addressing employee issues. The prior maintains the respect and dignity of the employee. The latter on the other hand does not, and breeds only animosity, resentment, and dissatisfaction. If your preferred method of addressing an employee’s performance issues is to walk out on to the production floor in front of other employees and curse and degrade them, then don’t be surprised by the result you get. Many managers, supervisors, or business owners justify this type of action as warranted because that’s the way they were treated, but when you ask them how they felt about it at the time, most would tell you they left that company.
Simple respect is something everyone deserves, and just because they work for you does not justify any thing less. The good news is that by being respectful, you can manage any employee issue in a constructive and productive fashion. Two key factors need to be part of the is discussion. First are the observed facts and second, is the effects on the operation. For example, if and individual is 15 minutes late for work three times within a week, cite the facts (what, when, where, and why) and then discuss how that affects your business operation.
- Try to avoid using “You”. Many sentences are grammatically correct without including the word “You”. “You” implies blame and can cause a defensive reaction. Say something like “When this happens…”, “Because this occurred…”
- Avoid using “should, must, and need to”. These words are often combined with you and used in the wrong context can appear to be ordering others. Instead, enlist their help in correcting the issue. Maybe ask “What are your thoughts on how we should handle this…?” or “What do you think we ought to do?”
- The word “No” is final. The word “No” indicates inflexibility and an unwillingness to work out a solution. An alternative is to avoid stating what you can’t do and offer options that you can do. For example, rather than telling them “No, you can’t come in 15 minutes later because our work schedule is 8 – 5”. “What I can do is offer a 10 -6 schedule.”
- Asking goes a long way. Asking for the employee’s help to address a problem, suggests that you are both having the problem. You can further illustrate the point if you make statements like “When this happens, it causes me to think…” or “When it happened, I had to…”. Ask them why they think it happened, and how to fix it.
- Address OBSERVED BEHAVIOR. Perceptions are different for each person, what you perceive is how you interpret what happened. You should check your understanding of what you observed with the employee. For example, “You sounded pretty angry when you spoke with Vince…”, “I noticed you didn’t report for work until 10:10…”, or “I observed you weren’t wearing safety glass when…”
- Stick to the facts. If you can agree on what occurred and when, you can then establish facts. For example, “I observed you weren’t wearing safety glasses while grinding.” Their response might be, “I only took them off for a short period of time.” The fact is they weren’t wearing them at some point while grinding. Make sure you keep the discussion about the established facts.
- Don’t infer reasons or motivation. Avoid implying the reasons for the behavior, like they are “lazy”, “reckless”, or “stupid”. These kinds of characterizations will only serve to inflame the employee and defeat what you are trying to accomplish during counseling – to correct the behavior.
Documentation is Crucial.
When you document counseling or corrective action, it needs to be done when the incident occurred. Documenting incidents long after they have occurred opens you up challenges as to the accuracy of your recall of the event and allegations as to the validity of the documentation. The employee could argue that if it wasn’t important enough to document when it occurred, why is it really an issue? But I’ve seen it happened A LOT, where Supervisors, Managers, and Business Owners try to play “catch-up” when a significant issue arises or when they want to terminate an employee. They try to compile all the issues they have had with the employee at that time. Again, this isn’t a good idea because it’s viewed as “piling”.
When documenting conversations, you should also be factual. For example, what were the agreed upon facts that warranted the counseling or warning? What was the employee’s explanation for the incident? For example:
7/13/2016 Today I meet with John Doe concerning him failing to where work gloves while grinding on the lower deck bulkhead. We discussed what I observed and why it occurred. John stated he simply forgot to put them on. We agreed that he will make sure he is wearing all safety equipment before starting any task in the future.
This same format should be followed if you are issuing a warning and the document should clearly indicate that it’s a warning. Further, if possible, the warning should be signed and dated by both the supervisor/manager/business owner and the employee. Give the employee a copy of the warning and you keep the signed original for your file. If you tell an employee you are giving them a verbal warning, it certainly should also be documented, but there’s no need to have them sign it.
How long is a warning valid?
It really depends on the nature of the warning. Have there been any other incidents prior to or subsequent to issuing the warning, and how long ago was the warning issued. Certainly, a warning for attendance that occurred five years ago may be less important than one that occurred six months ago, but if you’ve had subsequent issues since, then perhaps the warning is more pertinent. Also, a warning for a safety violation that occurred a year ago may be significant, if they’ve had subsequent safety violations.
Some types of behaviors are recognized as grounds for immediate termination. For example, things like fighting, theft, some forms of racial & sexual harassment, or other illicit acts; but these instances should be clearly spelled out in your company handbook and policies.
How many times before I give a warning or terminate?
Depending on the nature of the behavior, you may skip any corrective action and go straight to termination as indicated above. Some behavior may warrant a verbal warning, like a developing pattern of tardiness; some behavior may require a more formal written warning, like for a safety infraction; some situations may warrant a suspension, and others a demotion. It really depends of the infraction or performance issue. In any of these situations, documentation is required. A pattern or repeated warnings of course requires more stern action, like suspension, demotion or termination.
Corrective action is not a science. There are some general rules that will help you manage these situations effectively, but many times it’s a judgment call on whether to issue a warning or other type of corrective action. Your goal should be constructive, in that you are trying to salvage the employee if possible. If you have questions or need help give us a call at (270) 709-3135 and we can help you work through it.