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Achieving a Better Workplace through Supervisor Education and Training

Supervisors are on the front line when it comes to maintaining positive employee relations in the workplace. Their impact on the employees’ work environment is direct and immediate; they are the first to become aware of problems among employees, and they have significant influence and control over employee attitudes. Supervisors must be educated on how to motivate employees and how to spot potential issues warranting human resources’ review.

Effective supervisory development has two components. (1) The employer should provide formal training sessions for supervisors. (2) Human resources should regularly communicate with supervisors.

Supervisors should attend the first formal training session immediately after they are hired into a supervisory position. That way, the employer may ensure the supervisor is trained on key employment laws and on the company’s policies and procedures. Periodically, supervisors should attend refresher courses so they can stay updated on changes in the law and on the company’s policies and procedures.

The following are examples of important topics to cover during training sessions:

Policies and Practices—Supervisors and managers are the persons primarily responsible for enforcing the employers’ policies and practices. Supervisors must be trained on the specific content of the company’s employee handbooks and taught how to implement established procedures.

Documentation and Performance Evaluations—Communicating and documenting performance problems and issuing corrective action in response to employee misconduct are among the more difficult aspects of a supervisor’s job. Too many supervisors are never trained on how to generate proper personnel documentation or how to conduct themselves when issuing discipline. Employers should explain how to complete proper documentation of employment issues and demonstrate how to properly communicate discipline to employees.

Harassment and Discrimination Laws—Many supervisors are unfamiliar with even the basics of the state and federal harassment and discrimination laws governing workplace relationships. Explain which conduct may be perceived as offensive or harassing and provide specific examples. Discuss the behavior that constitutes professional conduct in the workplace and be explicit about the behavior that will not be tolerated. Provide best supervisory practice tips for encouraging top performance from employees. Teach supervisors to lead by example and to use positive reinforcement to encourage employees to perform well.

FMLA, ADA, Wage and Hour and Workers’ Compensation Laws—These laws are extremely complex, yet, they impose critical obligations on supervisors that must be fulfilled for the company to remain in compliance. Familiarize supervisors and managers on the basic obligations of these laws and warn them of the “traps for the unwary” associated with each. Encourage supervisors to go to human resources immediately when they believe one of these laws is implicated in a particular situation.

In addition to attending formal training sessions, supervisors need the ongoing support and guidance of human resources in order to successfully manage their employees. Human resource professionals should take the following steps on a regular basis to encourage ongoing positive employee relations in the workplace:

Meet with New Supervisors—Meet with new supervisors one on one when they come onboard to explain the role of human resources, to answer specific questions about the company, and to point the supervisor in the direction of key resources within the organization. Help connect supervisors to a mentor and make sure they feel comfortable in approaching human resources with questions or problems.

Regularly Check-In on Supervisors and their Employees—Take time to “round” on supervisors and their reports on a regular basis. Circulate through workspaces to chat with the employees and supervisors whom you support. Make an effort to say hello in the halls and to learn people’s names. Ask individuals “how are things going?” By getting to know employees and supervisors, you will make them feel supported and encourage them to use the human resources department when a problem first arises.

Encourage Use of HR—When individuals do come to you seeking assistance, tell them that you are glad they came to you and that you are concerned about the problem they have raised. While discussing an issue with an employee or supervisor, coach him or her about ways to improve in the future and suggest changes you recommend that he or she should make in the department.

Apply Solutions Broadly—When you recognize a recurring “problem behavior” in the workplace, or observe that multiple supervisors are implementing a particular policy or practice inconsistently or incorrectly, address the concern with all the supervisors to whom the issue applies, not just the supervisor or supervisors who came to you. Fix the problem on a broader level.

Communicate With Regular Newsletters—Send out regular e-mails or other written communications coaching supervisors on best supervisory practices and updating them with changes in the company’s policies and in the law. Remind supervisors in these communications that you are there to support them and encourage them to use you as a resource as they manage employees.