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Refreshing Insights

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, a worker who showed up after a few too many beers, 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 manager 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 at work can damage a healthy company culture and usually leads to hurt feelings and lower morale.

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 a negative reaction — from anger, to tears, to indifference, to defiance — and prepare your response and corrective actions that might need to take place as best as you can. You may want a third party involved.

3. Be Direct

There’s nothing more awkward than bringing up a sensitive issue during a staff meeting or in a group setting — as though it’s a pervasive problem — 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 do something about it likely has no clue. Be respectful of everyone on your staff, especially the offending individual, by 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 okay.

Express why you value him or her, both professionally and personally, but be forthright about how the issue is negatively impacting others and their work. 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 pays for recovery programs or therapy to aid workers struggling with addiction, anger management or depression, or may have funds to help lift a financial burden. 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 in Compliance

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 retaliation or litigation down the road.

7. Be There for Them

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 the most difficult part of leading an organization, especially for those with a strong family atmosphere and employee engagement. But doing so respectfully and with purpose is a vital part of building a great culture.

There are many other challenges to running your business smoothly, and our HR Best Practices Checklist below can help, so check it out. And, if your organization needs to establish processes for handling HR issues — from sensitive issues to payroll to compliance to employee performance and everything in between — reach out to McClone’s HR services team. We’ll help you strengthen your workforce, improve your culture and ensure compliance.

HR Best Practice Checklist

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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.