Ultimate Software's Blog

Live from #UltiConnect 2013: 4 Keys to Handling Difficult Employee Situations

Every manager has one. The “just when I thought I’ve seen it all” story. The wackiest, craziest employee story you’ve ever heard. And, if you don’t have one. Trust me…at some point in your career, you’ll get one.

Karen Rausch PHR, director of human resources with the Phoenix Suns, led one of the most interesting conversations during this year’s Ultimate Software 2013 Connections conference. She created a safe environment for people to share their employee relations horror stories. While each us has experienced different challenges, we learned there are similar actions that get us there. For example, comments like:

“Oh, they’re just joking around. You’ll get used to it.”

“I kinda told a little white lie during the employee termination meeting. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”

“We don’t have time to coach an employee’s performance. We need to fire them now.”

When situations occur that could be violations of policy, deficiencies in performance or threat to the company brand, we have to resolve the matter. Unfortunately, there’s no universal rule book to tell us how to solve these matters. Each situation is unique. It’s essential that we reach an answer that’s fair and consistent with company culture and previous employee decisions.

That means the manager and the employee need to have a conversation – often with the presence of human resources. Rausch shared her four key steps for success when meeting with employees.

1) Get both sides of the story. We’re all human and it can be easy to start thinking of solutions before hearing all of the nuances. Once both the manager and the employee have shared their versions of the story, then everyone can work on bringing the matter to resolution.

2) Focus on the problem not the person. I always tell managers that the worst thing they can do is tell an employee they have a bad attitude. It’s vague and will only cause tempers to flare. But if you can describe in very specific behaviors what a “bad attitude” looks like…then address those behaviors.

3) Stay calm, cool and collected. It’s okay to communicate that you’re disappointed. Maybe even that you’re frustrated. But yelling and screaming just won’t move the conversation forward. Employees will shut down. Everyone involved is an adult and the conversation should be conducted in an adult manner.

4) Maintain the respect of everyone. As a HR pro, I’ve been involved in many manager / employee conversations. Sometimes those conversations can feel like an “us versus them” situation. The employee needs to feel their voice is being heard. The manager needs to feel their authority isn’t being undermined.

Lastly, one great reminder for anyone working through a tough employee relations issue: Don’t feel the need to resolve everything in an instant. If personalities are starting to get a little edgy, tell everyone to sleep on it and resume conversation the next day. If you need to step away from the matter to do additional research, then do it. While people might not always like the outcome, everyone will respect decisions made in a thoughtful way. Especially when it comes to something as important as employees and working relationships.