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There’s no easy way to bring it up. Perhaps it’s an employee who doesn’t practice good personal hygiene, someone who’s become the office bully or an office romance that’s gone too far.

Dealing with sensitive issues or personal problems with employees is often much more difficult than addressing poor performance. Yet, you know the tough conversation needs to take place. These tips will help you handle sensitive topics with tact and care.

1. Be Proactive

The worst thing a supervisor or Human Resources team member can do is allow poor behavior to go on for too long, hoping it will go away on its own.

If you or others are distracted by someone’s unacceptable behavior, it needs to be addressed quickly before it gets worse or becomes a topic of conversation around the water cooler. Waiting too long to have difficult conversations can damage a healthy company culture and could lead to potential legal problems.

RELATED: Leverage Your Company Culture to Attract & Retain Talent

2. Be Prepared

When you meet with the person, have some talking points and facts written down to help you clearly communicate the reason for the meeting. Nerves can get in the way, making it difficult to communicate clearly. The employee may ask for examples of the unacceptable behavior, so make sure you have documentation of any incidents to back up your claims.

Think through how you will calmly handle any reaction (e.g., anger, tears, indifference, defiance, etc.) and prepare to take whatever corrective actions might be necessary. Depending on the nature of the issue, you may want another supervisor or HR representative as a witness to the conversation.

3. Be Discreet

There’s nothing more awkward than bringing up a sensitive issue during a staff meeting or in a group setting when it really only applies to one person. Doing so leaves everyone confused and frustrated, especially when others know the individual who’s behind it all.

Meanwhile, the person who really needs to hear the message likely has no clue. Be respectful of everyone on your staff, especially the offending individual, by discreetly addressing any issues one-on-one.

4. Be Empathetic

Above all, show concern and care for the person. It may help to share how difficult it is for you to bring up the issue and to simply ask if everything’s OK.

Express why you value him or her, both professionally and personally, but be forthright about how the issue is negatively impacting the work environment. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Allow him or her to maintain dignity at all times. It’s not about calling someone out; it’s about helping someone out.

5. Be Helpful

There are times when an employee simply needs help. This is especially true for those struggling with addiction, economic hardships, depression or a difficult home life. A personal crisis can weigh heavily on employees and carry over to their professional lives.

Many companies offer an employee assistance program that covers programs or therapy to aid workers struggling with issues like addiction, anger management or depression. Employers can also recommend books, support groups, online resources, legal help, mentor programs and more. It’s important to not only make an employee aware of any sensitive issues, but to also offer potential solutions.

6. Be Compliant

Make sure you’re familiar with any legal requirements regarding the topic you’re covering with the employee. Just as there are off-limit questions when hiring a new employee, know what you can and should not say to an existing employee. Avoid discriminatory comments or other inappropriate references that could lead to litigation down the road.

7. Be Diligent

Demonstrate your care and concern with proper follow up. It’s best to schedule a follow-up meeting during your initial conversation so the person knows there will be accountability going forward.

When you speak again, ask how he or she is doing, what measures have been taken to address the issue and if further help is needed. And, when you see improvement, acknowledge it respectfully and let your employee know that the effort is appreciated and making a difference.

Handling sensitive HR issues can be one of the most difficult parts of leading an organization, especially if your company has a family atmosphere and strong employee engagement. But doing so respectfully and with purpose is a vital part of building and maintaining a great culture.

Looking for Help with HR Challenges?

There are many HR responsibilities involved in running a business and it can be challenging to have things run smoothly if you don’t establish some set policies and procedures for addressing those duties.

McCloneHR can help! From payroll processing and benefits administration to guidance for hiring and recruiting, our HR team partners with and supports  your team! Contact us today to learn more about our HR outsourcing services.

In the meantime, download our Workplace Compliance Requirements Infographic to make sure you’re up to date with the regulations that impact your business.

HR Compliance  Requirements Infographic

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A collection of articles from the McClone team with the helpful knowledge and insights to ensure your organization is well protected.