This boundary is an important one that business owners must face. Particularly small and medium-sized business need to deal effectively with troublesome employees. This can be difficult in a small business. Generally you will be on a first name basis with many of your employees. This definitely complicates the issue.
Naturally you may want to keep things simple and deal with troublesome employees or employees having problems impersonally in order to protect you and your business. However I would counsel against this approach straight off the bat. The best tack to take with your employees is to talk to and engage them. Ask them if there is something wrong or if they are having problems either themselves or at home. If they don’t want to talk then fine, you’ve tried, if they do then perhaps they will tell you enough that you can assist them with their problems.
Although it’s nice to think that just being a listening post is going to be enough, often it isn’t. Furthermore, you can definitely get your business into hot water if you say or do something that leads to a bad outcome. Here’s a list of some areas you need to be cautious around and some advice with regards to assisting employees without getting yourself into trouble:
- Personal relationship troubles. This is a common problem. Many employees underestimate how poorly their performance at work will be when their personal relationships are in trouble. As such if this becomes the topic of conversation you can listen but I would caution about giving any advice. If you’ve been through a similar patch of trouble perhaps you can tell them what happened to you but short of that you should probably suggest some form of counselling, without implying anything negative. Suggest that you could offer them some time off or perhaps go away and work out their accrued holiday pay and suggest they take a break to sort it out.
- Poor health. Many employees are suffering from poor health due to poor diet and exercise. If you find that this is becoming common perhaps you need to look internally. Take a good look at your business and whether you need to explore new options with regards to providing your employees a health workplace. Perhaps even empower them? There will be a contributor article on this topic shortly.
- Management or boss issues. This may in fact include you! Sometimes employees want to talk about their direct manager but have no idea whom to talk to. If you’re the boss but not their manager they might feel like talking to you. Be careful here though, it’s easy for poor performing employees to find people to blame and often it’s their direct manager. Worse still sometimes employees simply enjoy playing games or have ulterior motives for what they are saying. Don’t assume anything. Hear their side out and explain you’ll look into it. Then the next person to speak to is your manager.
- They’re in the wrong job. Many employees as I recently outlined in a previous article on Jobfitting are in the wrong job in your organisation. If you can get them into the on they want whilst keeping them in your organisation you will have an employee for life. Equally so perhaps you are better of encouraging them to go for something else and help them with their CV and a reference instead of having them soldier on and underperform in your organisation. Change is hard, and scary, particularly for employees of long tenure. Be cautious in this area, many employees, it is sad to say, are happy to be unhappy. Tread carefully.
These are a few of what I would call ‘hot topics’. It’s not an exhaustive list however it should be enough to highlight to you that employees have a lot of things that they sometimes need to vent. You can be the listening post, but the key is not to get involved. Although you can help, their problems are not your problems. Be objective, provide some insight and re-direct to a professional resource to help them further.