As a manager, you will, sooner or later, have to address matters that are awkward, but nevertheless important. Here's how to do it more easily.
Besides organising, planning and generally steering the ship, managers have to deal with sensitive issues in a way that leaves all parties at ease and satisfied. You will have to demonstrate the perfect mix of approachability and authority, and find, or at the very least suggest, a solution.
Are you a friend or a boss?
As a boss, one advantage to having friendships with your employees is that you have a strong, positive relationship with each of them. You understand what motivates them because you've learned about their families, their interests and their personal goals.
Employees with a strong connection to their managers are more likely to work harder, have a positive attitude and be loyal to the company. However, in order to be a good manager, you must be careful to define the boundaries between yourself and your staff. Here are some points to remember:
- Clarify the relationship. Be direct about the nature of your business relationship, your goals, how your employees are to help you accomplish them, and what they can expect from you. By communicating these things clearly, you curtail the risk of an employee misinterpreting your friendship and behaving in an unprofessional manner.
- Be social - to a degree. It's natural for managers to socialise with staff as it gives you the chance to share ideas and get to know your employees in a more relaxed environment.
- However, don't overdo it. You want a reputation for being fair and professional, not for dancing on the table at the Christmas parties.
- Don't fake it. Be sincere about your interest in your employees. Your efforts could backfire if you don't mean it.
- Don't play favourites. If you favour an employee your other staff members will quickly learn to distrust you and productivity will suffer. Ensure that all staff at the office receive the same attention and are managed according to the same disciplinary measures.
- Shhhh! No matter how close you are to friends at the office, resist giving them the "inside scoop". Confidential information regarding issues such as salaries, hiring and firing decisions, or important changes at senior management level, are just that - confidential.
How to communicate sensitive issues
Everyone loves good news but let's face it, there isn't always enough of it. As a business owner, you're going to have to deliver bad news once in a while. So how can you frame it in a way that is constructive and therefore easier to hear and accept?
First, determine whether the issue is one you can address without having to approach the employee concerned directly. For instance, if it is a dress code issue, a company-wide email reminding everyone of appropriate business attire might do the trick.
If you do have to approach an employee individually, whether on a personal matter or performance issue, start with positive feedback before moving onto the criticism and the request for change. This method should be brief and to the point.
For example, "I appreciate the work that you've been doing on this project, but I noticed that you weren't as prepared as usual this week." End with a change statement: "I want to make sure you're fully prepared for the next meeting. Is there anything I can do to help you?" This will also help you get to the root of the problem.
Address problems by giving the person a concrete suggestion for change. This gives him/her a thought, action or attitude that can help turn a negative situation into a positive one. Once the person has time to reflect on the discussion and make a positive change, he/she may come to appreciate and respect your concern, honesty and tact.
Always remember that any issues you ignore or deal with badly won't go away by themselves. If you want to protect yourself and your business tackle these problems as and when they arise.
How much should you manage?
Employee-monitoring devices (like web use monitoring tools) have become more affordable and easy to use - but if you are overzealous or don't communicate your reasons for doing it, you could damage morale.
In a recent study by YouGov in the United States, employees admitted to wasting about 30% of their time online each month. This equals about two work days per month.
As more and more businesses provide high-speed Internet access to their employees, they seek to block employees accessing pornography or games or doing excessive personal business through the web or email. There are even programmes that allow you to record keystrokes in multiple languages.
The number of employees under surveillance worldwide was estimated at 27 million in 2001, according to the Privacy Foundation study. Though still largely the domain of corporations, an increasing number of SMEs are monitoring employees' web and email use in efforts to keep productivity up and time-wasting down.
It may be in your interests to use surveillance software, but if you choose to do so, you must tell your employees what you are monitoring and why. They need to understand that it is your right to protect your business from abuse, including situations that could prove to be liable or embarrassing to the company.
Before you buy any monitoring software, answer these two questions:
Are you solving a problem or are you being paranoid? Genuine concerns could include the security and safety of your employees, sexual harassment of employees, employee fraud, espionage and misbehaviour.
Is it a cultural fit? For businesses that thrive on independence, such as research and development companies, extensive monitoring may create more problems than it solves.
How to implement employee surveillance
- Disclose your plans in advance and accept employee feedback. Unless you can make a case for doing surveillance, expect a backlash. If you don't give notice at all, you could be forced to explain why in a lawsuit.
- Have clear guidelines on what behaviour is unacceptable. Spelling out every potential scenario is not possible, nor expected. But if you plan to filter out certain websites, such as pornography, gambling, or job posting sites, you would be smart to disclose this to your employees. They will be more responsive if you clarify exactly what is, or isn't, appropriate online behaviour.
- Respect employee needs and time. If employees work a lot of overtime, it is understandable that they might need to conduct some personal business at the office. Give them some leeway, especially if they are discreet about it, and otherwise efficient.
- Build trust. This is easier to say than to do. Still, trustworthy employees require less monitoring. Work on these relationships to ensure that employees respect your rules and authority and do not find reasons to defame the company.
How to manage a safe and healthy work place
Every business has a legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of employees, customers and suppliers. Poor health and safety can lead to illness, accidents and significant cost for your business. Furthermore, excessive energy consumption and waste production doesn't only harm the environment, it also hurts your profits.
Effective health, safety and environmental practices pay for themselves. They also improve your reputation with customers, the local community and your own employees.
Some workplace hazards can be easily overlooked. Make sure that you do the following:
- Tidy up loose cabling.
- Look out for wet, slippery, or uneven floors.
- Ensure all areas are well lit.
- Check for adequate ventilation.
- Ensure that chemicals, including cleaning substances, are stored, handled and disposed of properly.
- Put in place safe procedures for handling flammable substances.
- Check for faulty electrical equipment.
- Manage waste responsibly.
- Fix bad drainage.
- Ensure ladders and scaffolding are safe.
- Improve poorly designed workstations.
- Check for exposure to vibration from tools or equipment.
- Implement sufficient rest breaks.
- Provide appropriate and well-maintained protective wear.
- Provide appropriate training.
- Ensure vehicle loading and unloading operations are carried out safely.
- Check for exposure to excessive work pressure.
Finally, remember that you are legally obliged, as a business owner, to carry out a risk assessment, meet fire safety standards and report accidents or dangerous incidents in the workplace to the relevant authorities.