How to have awkward chats as a line manager?

Do you need to have an awkward chat with an employee, but unsure where, and how to begin?

Whether it’s about addressing decreased performance or inappropriate comments, the burden largely of having the awkward conversation falls on the individuals line manager. It may seem awkward or uncomfortable at first, but addressing matters with the individual can have many benefits. 

In this article, we’ll explore how best to approach having difficult conversations with employees, especially those which may carry an element of risk. With a step-by-step guide, you as a line manager can address many of the workplace issues through a conversation, and help to create a much more positive, and healthier working environment.

What are difficult conversations?

In a workplace, a difficult conversation is one in which you have to manage both emotions and information in a sensitive way in order to deal with an issue.

The most common types of conversations that tend to be a cause of concern for both line managers and business are:

  • Decreased employee performance
  • Inappropriate behaviour
  • Complaints and grievances
  • Addressing conflicts
  • An employee not adhering to the values and policies at their workplace

Why are difficult conversations so important?

As humans, we tend to avoid hard to handle conversations both in our personal and work lives. However, not being able to deal with a difficult issue head on can end up creating an environment of dread and anxiety. 

As a manager there are two reasons to embrace difficult conversations. First, they set the tone that there is nothing we can’t discuss and/or handle together. Second, difficult conversations set the foundation for an honest and open work environment that thrives on focusing on the goals, not the problems.

That’s why it’s so important to learn, and follow, the proper steps to having difficult conversations with your colleagues. If your business has an HR team and/or HR policies in place make sure you consult them to ensure you are following the correct HR procedure to have any conversation necessary. HR professionals are on hand to guide managers on how to have any difficult conversation while keeping with HR’s core principles: empathy, discretion and professionalism.

In the next few sections, we’ll outline what to do before, during and after your conversations and how you can ensure these conversations go as smoothly as possible and you achieve an outcome which addresses the issues but more importantly ensures that corrective measures are in place going forward.

Before the conversation

Schedule plenty of time for the conversation, and prepare what you are going to say. Allow for breaks to gather and reflect on your thoughts and approach.

Points to think about prior to your conversation:

  • Check your facts and gather relevant documents. This is also a good time to review any relevant Company policies or rules that concern the situation, liaise with the HR Department in your business to ensure you are following the procedure correctly.
  • Take a moment to try to see the situation from your employee’s perspective. Proceed with an open mind and empathy. It is important to not make any definitive assumptions.
  • What outcome do you want? What possible solutions can you propose to resolve the matter?

During the conversation

Beyond the prep work, there’s a lot you can do to make sure you’re setting yourself, and your employee, up for success.

Here are a few tips on how to achieve the most out of your difficult conversation:

  • State the issues and provide examples. State the impact that the problem may be having on the wider team and the business.
  • Show you care. Put aside your view and let the employee explain their side of the story.
  • Confirm and clarify your understanding of what they have said and validate them where appropriate.
  • Reassess your position. Take this chance to clarify your position without minimising theirs. Has your position changed based on the information they provided?
  • Work with the employee to develop solutions and together agree on a way forward.

After the conversation

Take some time, and debrief HR and/or a senior manager. At this stage share your thoughts too. 

Most importantly, it is vital to note from a both ethical and confidentiality point of view, that the matter is not discussed with any other employees.

It is important to follow up with the employee after a difficult conversation has taken place, this reassures them that you are there to provide support and guidance as. Some pointers to keep in mind may include:

  • Taking a one-to-one moment to tell your employee that you appreciated the conversation you both just had.
  • In the days that follow, offer your employee the chance to ask any follow up questions, or continue the discussion if needed.
  • Celebrate positive progress promptly, to keep them both focused and motivated. Don’t let their hard work go unnoticed.

Creating a culture at the workplace where all categories of feedback are welcomed is not easy, but the resulting accountability drives dedication and willpower within the team that wouldn’t otherwise be realised.

Reshape HR is here to assist. We work with a variety of clients based across the UK, so if you are looking for HR or Payroll support or simply looking to run something past us, please do get in touch with us via:
T: 0141 471 5510
E: info@reshapehr.com
W: reshapehr.com


Mental Health at the Workplace

While mental health in the workplace has become a hot topic in recent years, there’s no doubt some stigma still exists around discussing mental health in a professional setting. With the ongoing effects of the pandemic, increased remote working and blurring of lines between home and work life, addressing mental health in the workplace has become increasingly difficult.

Positive mental health at work helps us flourish in our roles, manage stress and improve our resilience. In the long run, it allows us to reach our highest potential.

What is causing the increase of mental health issues in the workplace?

  1. There are many factors to consider including the impact of the lockdown.
  2. Some employees will be anxious about their family and friends.
  3. Many will have suffered bereavements, often without the chance to say goodbye or attend funerals.
  4. Fears about job security, returning to the workplace (including using public transport for commuting) and financial concerns.

However, there are still many other work-related factors that can harm mental health, such as excessive workload, financial difficulties, poor communication and workplace bullying.

Survey (see appendix 1)

A survey of employees from 129 UK businesses carried out by Wildgoose, which is a team building and virtual events business, discovered that:

  • Two in three people experienced worse mental health at work over the last year, compared to the previous.
  • One in three employees feel less able to raise mental health concerns during remote meetings.
  • 86% of employees feel that their workplace is not a safe environment for employees to be open about mental health concerns.

What can businesses do to support employees with their mental health?

It starts with knowing the signs of mental health. Even with a healthy work culture in place, some employees may struggle with underlying mental health conditions, with or without the added stress of the pandemic.

It’s easy to miss some of the early warning signs of mental illness in the workplace. Common signs that you should look out for are:

  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extremely high and/or low moods
  • Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating and/or sleeping habits

Communicate more than you think you need to

Meet with employees often to check-in, not just regarding work, but also on how they are doing in general.

By simply asking an employee, if there’s anything that they need can be extremely impactful in showing you care, especially for employees who are more reluctant to ask for help. 

Make sure you always keep your team informed about any business changes or guideline updates. Additionally, you can set expectations on workloads or projects and recognise that things may slide from time to time, but it’s how you manage these together as a team.

Make your team aware of mental health resources and encourage them to use them. Be aware that shame and stigma prevent many employees from using mental health benefits to seek treatment, so normalise the use of those services.

Encourage team support

An important part of a healthy work environment is a team that supports one another. As a line manager, encouraging working together as a team and participating in group exercises to de-stress can prove beneficial.

To help employees feel connected while they are physically distanced i.e., working from home, you can organise team-building activities for virtual socialisation, such as:

  • Trivia/game night
  • Group fitness classes
  • Virtual happy hour
  • Video show and tell
  • Book clubs

Both businesses and line managers need to make it clear that discussing mental health is important and nothing to be ashamed of. You should communicate that talking about mental health will lead to support and not discrimination. This could be achieved through normalising conversation around mental health in the workplace and actively encouraging discussion.

If you think your own mental health may be affecting your work, reach out to your line manager or HR team who will then be able to assist you further. You’re more likely to feel better knowing that you have a support group around you who can assist you.

If you would like to know more or take part in mental health events, take a look at our previous blog post on Mental Health Awareness Week for more information and resources.

Reshape HR is here to assist. We work with a variety of clients based across the UK, so if you are looking for HR or Payroll support or simply looking to run something past us, please do get in touch with us via:

T: 0141 471 5510
E: info@reshapehr.com
W: reshapehr.com 

Appendix 1:

Within the finance industry:The hospitality industry:The communications sector – marketing, advertising and PR – saw the greatest impacts from the decline of social contact:
  68% of employees had experienced increasingly poor mental health at work over the last year

Mental health absences were far higher in the financial services than others      
64% increase in reported poor mental health in the last 12 months.

100% of respondents to the survey agree that they don’t receive enough support.

32% of employees feel comfortable raising mental health concerns.  
Two in five employees surveyed feel less able to raise mental health issues during remote meetings (despite nine in ten companies having a process in place for remote employees to raise their concerns).

34% feel that a lack of in-person socialising makes mental health concerns harder to spot.