How to have challenging conversations

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Your worker shows up twenty minutes late to work each day looking stressed out. An employee has said they're battling anxiety and has requested accommodations to their schedule and duties. You have heard rumours, and maybe observed some signs, that an employee is battling with substance abuse. While these three scenarios are very different, the conversation you'll have with your employees is largely the same. 

Be it accommodating illness, taking disciplinary measures, or even outright termination, challenging conversations with your staff are inevitable in today’s workplace. There's an expectation from the courts that employers take the necessary steps to accommodate and support employees where issues outside of work may leak into their work performance.

There are three foundational elements to having these challenging discussions with your employee: 

  1. Supportive frame – Start the conversation from a place of wanting to help the employee. Do not accuse them of anything. Be respectful but be clear – avoid talking around the subject. Tell them you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour (i.e., they’ve started coming in late; they’re not completing assigned tasks; they have a bad attitude) and want to check in to make sure everything is OK. Ask how you can support the employee to improve the situation. Stick to facts and try to keep emotion out of the conversation.

  2. Active listening – Remember to focus on what the employee is saying. As an employer you do have a right to information that can help you provide accommodations to your employee; however, an employee is not obligated to reveal any personal information. Ask questions and listen to the answers with that supportive frame and avoid assigning blame. This involves active listening, and showing sympathetic movements, adjustments, and responses, when your employee is telling you what's happening.

  3. Take notes and adjust accordingly - This is extremely important as it's a great reference tool down the road, between yourself and your employee, to see what was said, and what supports were requested. Notes will also help if the relationships sours, and you end up going to court. The courts are going to want to see documentation to show that as an employer you practiced due diligence and fulfilled your duty to accommodate to a satisfactory level.

IMPORTANT: In a situation where a complaint is made and the case goes to court all documentation and communications (meeting notes, employee file, e-mails, texts) can be subpoenaed. Keep all notes to facts only – no feelings, emotions, assumptions, etc. 

CFIB members can contact our Business Advisors for help with preparing for these challenging conversations. Reach out at 1-833-568-2342 or for focused, sympathetic help and guidance. 

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