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How to Have Difficult Conversations With Employees

by timesheets_blog
Two employees working together

Most managers prefer to keep conversations on the surface rather than taking a deeper dive into an employee’s feelings. A typical employee arrives to work and has this conversation with a colleague:

How are you?

Doing great. You?

I’m okay.

Although an employee may feel like everything is on fire (see image below), they tend to speak about trivial things and go on like everything is fine. This is often due to the fact that the company culture doesn’t allow employees to take conversations a step further. It’s understood that everyone is supposed to chat about superficial things and continue on with their work duties. After all, having surface-level conversations keeps things nice and tidy– which is what most employers think is best.

There’s nothing wrong with small talk, but if those are the only types of conversations employees have, there’s room for improvement. Employees and managers must face the reality that small talk isn’t enough to keep employees satisfied. Since employees are at work for a majority of their day, it’s important that they feel comfortable with their coworkers and managers.

It’s crucial that employees and managers go beyond superficial conversation. Colleagues should be able to speak with one another without feeling like it’s “too much”. People need genuine communication to build solid relationships which, in turn, improves their productivity. “One of the most important things to have in the workplace is a close relationship”, explains CEO Jason Nazar from Comparably. He goes on to say that having colleagues support each other through hardships and successes is very important for an employee’s psyche

Material Goods Aren’t Enough for Your Employees

Some employers believe that providing employees with ping-pong, pinball, and company retreats is the best solution to bringing employees together. Although those activities provide employees with the opportunity to bond with one another, deeper connections rarely happen. When employees are in an environment with fun activities, they’re more likely to speak about the usual surface-level topics rather than anything with more depth.

A recent study by Pew and the American Life Project found that only 12% of respondents had close ties at work, even when they’re given fun activities to do. Yes, employers should still provide employees with fun activities; however, it’s not the ultimate solution for improving your communication culture at work. Overall, the best thing you can do as a manager is to have ongoing communication with your employees about their thoughts, ideas, and opinions.

The Benefits of Having Conversations With Employees

Speaking with employees is an incredible tool to enhance your employees’ work environment, morale, and productivity. Employees spend about 30% of their waking hours on the job, so it’s essential that they enjoy time spent at the work. When it comes to communication, if employees feel like they can’t speak with one another about things going on in their lives, they’ll feel isolated. Unfortunately, when employees don’t feel like they’re connected with their team, they’re less motivated to work. Many studies show us that isolated employees are less engaged and less productive; furthermore, disconnected employees have a higher chance of quitting. As a manager, it’s important to have conversations and create a company culture where employees feel comfortable speaking with one another, and where they also feel like they can talk to their managers comfortably.

Engaging in conversations at work has other benefits including:

1. Intellectual Curiosity

Fostering an environment where employees communicate frequently with one another and challenge each other intellectually increases their personal growth and curiosity. Having conversations is a great way to gain more understanding about topics while simultaneously opening up the door for more questions and analysis. This will help the overall business, because employees will be inclined to learn more.

2. Creativity

Engaging in conversations and collaboration is proven to improve company growth. When individuals speak openly with one another about their ideas and feel comfortable sharing, wonderful progress can happen. Some experts say “In short, highly intelligent people can still be uncreative, so the question is first whether an individual “can be creative” and then whether they “will be creative”. Being internally motivated towards the task at hand, and being encouraged by others for creative input, for example, are important stimulating influences on creative performance at work.” Having a diverse team is fantastic for the growth and development of the company. In this case, great minds do not think alike– great minds think differently and thoughtfully.

3. Diversity

Most employers think that employees should leave certain topics at home. While that may be true in some cases, speaking about taboo topics can be beneficial. You can’t always wear rose-colored glasses and assume that everything is fine when it isn’t. Allowing employees to speak about politics, philosophy, or other subjects gives employees the chance to listen and voice their opinions openly. They will have conversations that can expand their world views and gain more respect for each other’s insights.

Starting the Conversation

Making Your Employees Feel Heard

Whenever you’re having a conversation with an employee, you should try their best to make sure that the individual feels comfortable. A study by The Leadership Quarterly found that American workers trusted leaders who’ve displayed emotional sincerity. In summary, no matter what subject an employee brings to your attention, you must actively listen and avoid judgement.

Handling Difficult Discussions

No matter where you are, social issues are going to happen and they will affect your employees. How do you talk to employees about serious social issues? Do you ignore the things happening around you? Should you bring something to your employees’ attention? Employers have different opinions about handling social conflicts regarding inequality, race, women’s rights, and more. What is the right decision? Well, that’s entirely up to you.

Some employers believe that there’s no need to bring up social issues at work. If you have a company culture where you simply clock in, work, and clock out, it may not seem necessary to speak with employees. That’s certainly the safe route, but that may not satisfy your employees. If your team feels like they’re in an unsupportive environment, they’ll feel detached from the workplace, which ultimately will hurt their performance and motivation.

Supporting Your Staff

When major social issues occur, employees may find it odd if your business runs as usual. This is a representation of your organization’s cultural identity, and if nothing happens, they may become frustrated. In a recent article by Talent Works, they mention that 77% of respondents to an Instagram poll indicated that their workplace had not addressed the issues arising related to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. They felt too awkward to have conversations with their managers, but were desperate for support and reassurance.

This doesn’t mean that you have to broadcast a message to your entire customer list and social media following, but you may want to consider having conversations with your employees. You will want to create a safe space for employees where they can talk to you about their concerns. Additionally, you’ll find that these conversations will provide you with insight regarding how you can support them further.

To get the conversation started, simply bring them into your office and ask them to speak about their feelings on a certain topic. Be open and accepting. You don’t have to agree with the employee, but you should listen to what they have to say.

Questions to Get the Conversation Started

When you want to speak to employees, make sure that you bring them into a safe environment. You don’t know how emotional the conversation will be, so it’s wise to make sure that you’re in an enclosed office space where their privacy is respected. Here are some great questions to get any conversation started:

  1. “How are you doing?”
  2. “Is there any way that I can help?”
  3. “Can I provide support in some way?”
  4. “Is there something the company can adjust to ensure you’re comfortable?”
  5. “How can I help you reach your goals?”

What You Can Do Next

Checking in and having conversations with employees is extremely valuable for your business. You’ll not only improve your company communication, but you’ll also increase productivity, creativity, and morale. Overall, it’s a good idea to get started with these conversations as soon as you can. If you’re remote, video chat with employees and check in and see how they’re doing. If you’re in the office, pull your employees in individually and see how they’re doing. if needed, write down notes or any suggestions employees may have to make sure they feel more supported at your organization.

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