As a manager, you have a pretty tough job — and it doesn’t come much tougher than dealing with difficult situations in the workplace. Whether it’s tackling office gossip, giving a disciplinary, or helping your team through a period of redundancy, your management skills are going to be pulled into the spotlight.
So, to help you deal with some of the most common situations you might have to address at work, we’re sharing the experience, guidance and insight of our own managers.
In recent years, very few UK businesses are strangers to redundancy. With unavoidable cuts affecting companies large and small, British workers have felt the full force of the recession — and not just those who’ve lost their jobs. When redundancy is going on around you, even if you’re not the one in the firing line, it can leave you feeling worried for your own job, and even guilty about still having one.
As a manager, it’s up to you to keep the rest of your team happy, motivated and engaged; and the most important thing in this situation is clear communication. If someone in your company has lost their job, explain why those cuts had to be made. It’s also a good time to refocus on how your team’s contribution benefits the company as a whole, and draw attention to the part that each individual member has to play in that. And as far as it’s practical, try to operate an ‘open door’ policy: make it clear that if anyone is concerned, they can come and talk to you. In difficult times, we all need a little reassurance.
If one of your employees is consistently negative, not pulling their weight, or upsetting their colleagues, it can have a huge knock-on effect on the rest of the team. People can become de-motivated, disengaged, and even resentful; so it’s always best to tackle these issues early on. Have a quiet word with your employee at the first sign that something is wrong, but if the problem persists, call a meeting to discuss the issue at hand.
Set the tone from the very beginning by remaining calm, demonstrate your professional understanding by listening to explanations and keeping an open mind (there may be underlying causes of unhappiness or stress), and try to explore the issues together. That way, you can agree a way forward that works for everyone. Ask for ideas on how to resolve the problem so they feel involved, and arrange a follow-up meeting if necessary.
No one relishes the thought of having difficult conversations, but when you’re an employer, they’re largely unavoidable. Whether you’re talking about personal problems, medical issues, or complaints, you face a challenge: to talk about sensitive and emotive issues without damaging dynamics or morale.
You need a great deal of empathy, and whilst it’s not always easy, you need to stay in control of your emotions while the talk is taking place. Listen to what the person you’re talking to has to say, show your support and understanding when addressing the problem or concern, and never rush them — even if you’re running short on time. Your employee might be finding the talk just as difficult as you.
ossip, in any workplace, is largely unavoidable. The nature of people working closely together dictates that someone, somewhere, will always be talked about — from who the new recruit is dating, to what they got up to at the weekend. A lot of gossip fizzles into nothing after a few days (or as soon as something more interesting comes along), but if gossip starts to upset any of your employees, it needs to be dealt with. And fast. Gossip can be hurtful, and it has even been known to damage people’s careers.
If you’re aware that someone’s being talked about, or there’s a vicious rumour flying around the office, talk to the person at the centre of the gossip and ask them how they’d like to proceed. They may want to leave things well alone until the situation blows over (telling people not to talk about something can make it an even hotter topic), but if they want it tackled, you need to have a serious talk with your team members. This is always more effective on a one-to-one basis, so call a meeting with those involved and explain the gravity of the situation. Once they realise that some gossip isn’t all that harmless, the talk is sure to die down.
When you’re dealing with poor performance issues, every last one of your management skills is called into play. You need to lead the discussion in an authoritative way, remain calm and collected, explain carefully the issue at hand, and be willing to listen to any explanations or extenuating circumstances.
You also need to be completely honest and keep all communication clear and transparent; then, once you’ve explained the problem, it’s important to agree a process that will help to motivate and re-engage the team member you’re talking to. Try setting some achievable objectives and agreeing a regular monitoring and support programme — explaining that it’s for their benefit as much as your own.