Spencer Fane LLP Logo

Five Simple Maxims To Remember When Promoting Positive Employee Relations

Ensuring positive employee relations in the workplace is paramount. Unfortunately, many companies “lose the forest through the trees” when it comes to implementing best employment practices. During supervisory training sessions, employers focus on teaching compliance with labor and employment laws, but forget to promote basic principles of workplace fairness. Without the latter, the former carries little weight.

Teaching five simple maxims will help supervisors foster a happier, more productive workforce and avoid third-party interference from unions, plaintiff’s lawyers, and governmental agencies.

Treat others as you want to be treated

The “golden rule” not only of life, but also of the workplace. Supervisors must treat employees fairly and respectfully. They should support their employees by acting as mentors, lead employees by example, and earn their employees’ respect, rather than demand it through intimidation.

Employees’ stress level increases dramatically when they meet with supervisors and human resources professionals regarding discipline or other adverse employment actions. Handling these situations with compassion and understanding can make all the difference in avoiding third-party interference down the road. During performance counseling or disciplinary meetings, the supervisor should be explicit in telling the employee that the company wants the employee to succeed. Otherwise, employees assume the company is “out to get them.”

During termination meetings, the supervisor must treat the employee with dignity and remain even-keeled. Doing so is most critical when most difficult—when the employee acts inappropriately or lashes out at the supervisor.

There are two sides to every story

Before disciplining an employee, supervisors must listen to the employee’s side of the story, even if they don’t believe it will affect their decision, or if they feel confident they’ve already gathered enough facts. Employees want to be heard. When an employee perceives the supervisor as not caring about the employee’s “side” of the story, he or she might believe the supervisor has a discriminatory motive or animus against the employee.

Furthermore, while decision-makers usually think they have the whole story, often they find out too late—during litigation—that if they had heard the employee out, they would have learned that further investigation was needed.

Facts are stubborn things

Bad facts just get worse with time. When dealing with an employee complaint, it is critical to complete a thorough and honest investigation into the situation. If an employee or supervisor has acted improperly, the situation must be addressed head-on. If supervisors fail to deal with employment issues as they arise, the company will deal with them later after they blow up and become bigger problems.

Supervisors must be encouraged to approach their managers and/or human resources representatives with employee issues. If supervisors think their managers and human resources representatives are too short on time, bothered, or unwilling to help, supervisors will try to cover-up problems or handle them without adequate resources and support.

Patience is a virtue

Supervisors and human resource professionals will have to deal with employees who irritate and annoy them. In fact, the “20 percent of the employees who take up 80 percent of the time” will typically be the least likeable employees. Supervisors must be neutral and impartial, even if they don’t like someone.

Teach supervisors not to raise their voice with employees, especially during stressful situations. Prohibit supervisors from cursing or directing other inappropriate language or threats at employees, even where “the employee started it.” Employees perceive yelling and cursing as being intimidating and creating a hostile work environment.

When an employee seems frustrated or keeps failing to follow instructions, the supervisor must check him or herself to make sure he or she has effectively communicated the employee’s deficiencies and the specific performance expectations for that employee.

No news is good news

Employees interpret no news as good news. If they haven’t heard any feedback or criticism about their performance, they assume they are meeting, or even exceeding, expectations.

Supervisors must regularly evaluate employees and coach them day-to-day about ways to improve their performance. When problems arise, supervisors must discipline employees at the time the problem comes up, not down the road when it’s time to discharge the employee.

Human resource professionals who are assisting with terminations must insist that an employee is not discharged without having received prior warnings and disciplinary action (absent egregious misconduct). Ensuring positive employee relations in the workplace is paramount. Unfortunately, many companies “lose the forest through the trees” when it comes to implementing best employment practices. During supervisory training sessions, employers focus on teaching compliance with labor and employment laws, but forget to promote basic principles of workplace fairness. Without the latter, the former carries little weight.