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Time to have that difficult conversation? 6 golden rules to remember

By Jane Donnelly, Managing Director East of England

As an employer you will always aim help your team flourish and succeed, but there will be times when difficult conversations need to be had – whether you are placing your staff on furlough leave or need to discuss flagging performance.

Ultimately, you need to do what’s best for your team and your organisation, so here are 6 golden rules to remember which will make those difficult conversations that little bit easier for everyone involved:

1. Dedicate a time and space
While it might sound obvious, create a dedicated time and space in which to have this conversation rather than picking up the phone on a whim. Schedule a call with the employee in question and be generous with your time so they have the chance to ask questions. If you think it would alleviate any potential anxiety, provide them with some context in advance so they feel prepared.

As most of us are working remotely, a video call is the next best thing to a face-to-face conversation. Make sure that your background is professional and non-distracting, as this will help set the tone of the meeting. If appropriate, your on-site HR representative can be used as a third-party witness – just make sure your employee is made aware in advance if this will be the case.

2. Prepare beforehand exactly what to say
No matter how well you are able to think on your feet, now isn’t the time to be spontaneous. Plan what you are going to say and the key points you need to get across. Your delivery doesn’t need to be scripted as this will feel unnatural, just plotting out the conversation in your head should be sufficient. Lean on your HR department if you need help preparing or any clarification on the topic at hand.

Just as important as preparing what you are going to say is anticipating how your employee will react. Think about potential questions they may ask and make sure you have satisfactory answers ready.

3. Be direct, clear and honest
Difficult conversations become more difficult when the delivery is unclear, so be direct and get to the point quickly. To do this, try not to let your emotions come into play. Even though you may regret the decision you’re having to make, being overly sympathetic or showering the recipient in compliments can muddle your delivery and be confusing or even contradictory. Having said that, there’s a fine line between being direct and being harsh, so stick to the facts while still being sensitive.

 

 




















 

 

 

4. Contextualise
Even with an exceptional delivery, no one wants to receive bad news. What can soften the blow however, is giving some context around your decision. It’s important to know ‘the why’.

If you’re having to place an employee on furlough leave or even let someone go as a result of the current crisis, your employee will probably have a good understanding of why you have had to make this decision. Having said that, it’s still helpful to explain how your organisation is managing and that you have to take this action for the betterment of your team and business.

5. Offer help and support
As an employer, you’re also a coach. It’s up to you to provide everything your employees need to succeed, no matter what news you might be delivering to them. Whether your conversation is about performance, salary, going on furlough leave or terminating their contract, your help and support might be the difference between putting your employee through a damaging experience and opening them up to a new, positive opportunity.

Help might come in the form of constructive feedback to better their performance, support networks they can lean on or resources which will help them navigate a tricky period ahead. Their self-care and mental wellbeing should absolutely be part of your discussion, particularly if you are placing someone on furlough leave or having to terminate their contract. As well as the benefits to them, your help and support will go miles to convey your empathy and establishing trust between the two of you.

6. Follow up
Having delivered bad news to an employee, don’t leave them in the dark. Follow up on a separate occasion to see how they have taken the news. They’ll most likely need some time to digest your conversation, so consider leave it a day or two before getting in touch.

The points you really want to get across in a follow-up discussion are that you care about their career and wellbeing and support is available should they require. It’s worth taking this step, as further down the line you’ll benefit from maintaining a positive relationship with them, whether they’ll be returning from furlough leave or you encounter each other in the future.

No one wants to deliver bad news to an employee. After all, you’re probably where you are today professionally because you work well with people and care about helping your employees succeed. But a difficult conversation doesn’t have to be have to be dejecting if it’s delivered in the best way possible. Do your best to turn this into a positive opportunity for your employee and your team, both of which are capable of coming out the other side better off.

If you have any further questions or concerns about hiring in the current climate, please contact your Hays consultant, or visit our Inspire Me in the New Era of Work Hub to access a collection of resources that will help you to manage your team, undertake interviews and successfully onboard new candidates – all whilst working remotely.

About this author

Jane joined Hays in 1994 as an Associate. Initially recruiting within the Accounting and Finance in Scotland she progressed to Regional Director in 1999 running all Hays Finance, Office Support and Customer Contact recruitment across the North East of England.

Moving to Hays Australia in 2001 as Regional Director for offices across the Sydney and Canberra specialisms included Finance, Procurement, IT, and Banking. Jane also launched Hays Life Sciences in Australia and was instrumental in the development of the national Healthcare and Education business. In 2006 Jane was appointed a Senior Regional Director.

Jane returned to the UK in July 2013 initially completing a number of operational project roles in Cambridge and Chelmsford before taking responsibility, in 2015, as Regional Director for 6 offices across Essex and Suffolk. In 2017 Jane was appointed as the Managing Director for the East of England region, covering 17 offices. She also currently sits on the council for the CBI in the East of England.

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