Essential information to prevent issues arising in the workplace.
In the 15 years or so that I have been advising employers and employees about issues that have arisen at work I can normally work out when problems started to occur and in turn the core reason for the issue. I have therefore prepared a list of what I consider to be the top 5 reasons (in order), why I believe problems arise in the workplace.
There are of course individual factors and circumstances which makes every case unique but if you dive into the root cause of it, I believe you will find at the foundation one of these reasons. It is for this reason I believe that the ‘secret sauce’ to successful employee/employer relations lies in understanding and getting right the following.
1. Poor Communication
Poor communication means a lack of communication, poor or inadequate communication and miscommunication or misunderstanding in the messaging.
Communication is fundamental to many of the disputes that I deal with and whilst it may seem like it should be the easiest of the 5 for employers to get right, it is actually much harder than merely giving a clear message to staff (although this is a great start). Think about it, how often have you taken time to think about the words you have used, the way you have said something, the level of understanding of the receiving party and whether the person really understood what you wanted to say?
At an individual level misunderstanding or not appreciating different communication styles and requirements can create disputes between staff and at an organisation level it can lead to mistrust and low employee morale.
The starting point for getting communication right is to make sure that there is at least some form of regular two-way communication between staff and management. Things that you can do to improve communication are as follows:
- Implement a system of regular one to one’s for all staff.
- Hold meetings on a regular basis where all staff receive the same message – this could be at a team, department or whole organisation level.
- Create a newsletter or group chat for staff where messages can be shared by management.
- Implement a system for feedback from staff, either staff representatives or staff polls/surveys.
- Ensure that line managers speak to (not email or text but actually speak) their direct reports at least once a week.
- Encourage team bonding sessions and days out where staff get to know each other on a personal level therefore increasing their understanding of the individual.
Training managers and senior members of your team on how to communicate effectively will, in my view, be a great investment, with regular follow ups and reminders on why it is so important.
2. Poor management behaviours
When I talk about poor management behaviours it is rarely deliberate but rather is as a result of the following:
- Lack of training.
- Stressed or overworked.
- Lack of confidence.
- Having KPI’s, goals or targets which are unrelated to their management of the team.
- Poor management of the manager!
The good thing is that the reason for poor management behaviour can normally be remedied, if identified early enough.
Poor management behaviours mean that the managers fail to communicate with staff, they do not have time for their staff, they prioritise fulfilling their own work or KPI’s, they are anxious, stressed, angry or do not trust their staff.
As I say it is easy to deal with each of the reasons for poor management but you need to recognise it and understand the reasons, unfortunately many organisations give someone a title and staff to manage but fail to train them or consider that their main priority should now be the management of the team.
3. Failure to follow procedures
This is the easiest to get right but often overlooked by employers in a rush to get to the end result. Not only can it cause disputes, it can cost you more as, in the case of a disciplinary or grievance process, the Employment Tribunal can increase compensation by up to 25% if you get it wrong.
Having internal procedures in place that are consistent with legal requirements, and which are written down and easy to understand is the first step. The second step is ensuring that managers understand the procedures, the importance of following them and where to go for help if they get stuck.
4. Inequality and unfairness
Equality and prevention of discrimination are a legal requirement of all employers; however equality and fairness can cause problems even if the employee does not have a legal protection under the Equality Act (i.e. those who have a ‘protected characteristic’ which are: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity).
At the frustration of many employers, staff do talk, and they share details of their pay, what they have received or not and what they think they and others should be receiving. So, even decisions which are privately made and communicated will often be shared.
I also come across the issue (which is caused by poor communication (see above) of a perception of unfairness, so even though there is actually no unfairness, staff feel that there is. Many employers become exasperated by this, but again if you look at the root cause as to why this has arisen it can be addressed or prevented in future.
We all know how it feels to be treated unfairly or how we perceive to be unfairly treated. This can breed resentment to the employer, resentment to co-workers, lack of loyalty and in the worst cases can cause whole teams or departments to be discontent.
5. Unreasonable individuals
Whilst it may not seem it, in my view this is not a common occurrence and on the whole most people are reasonable, will behave reasonably and issues can be resolved or prevented by getting steps 1-4 right.
There are however the minority of individuals who are the problem themselves. They may have unreasonable expectations, issues with working with other people, thrive on negativity or enjoy causing conflict or trouble.
Unfortunately, there is little that you can do to stop this occurring, most people who turn into an unreasonable individual are perfectly pleasant and display no signs in interview. You can of course obtain references, but in this age of merely giving dates and job role it can be difficult to glean any useful information about a person.
However, these types of people will start to display their ‘dark’ side within a few months, and this is when you need to use your intuition/gut feeling about them and make use of having a probation period.
As I say it is rare that you come across a situation where it really is the individual that is the cause of the problem, which is why it is number 5 on the list. When trying to work out why a problem has arisen many poor employers will go straight to this reason and stop at it. This is short sighted and will lead to repeated problems and unhappy staff.
In my view if you have worked your way through all 4 above and you still have not gotten to the root cause, it is only at this point you can say that it is likely to be as a result of an unreasonable individual.
This is of course a simple view of complex issues, but it does not have to be complex to be a great employer and to prevent as many problems from arising as possible.
If you would like more advice or strategies to deal with any of the problems 1-5 listed above, then please do not hesitate to contact me.
My passion is to help employers and business owners to be the best employers they can and therefore if you want to be the best employer in your industry drop me an email to arrange a no obligation discussion and quote. Email: [email protected]
This article was written by Alison Colley, Solicitor and Founder of Real Employment Law Advice.
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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.
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