Time and time again I see articles on ‘employee retention’ popping up in my inbox or social media feeds. The topics typically include discussions or recommendations on rewards, benefits, culture and finish with an offer of policies, or audits or reviews or some vague suggestions on how to retain staff through career development, etc.
As an employment lawyer, I come across employees who are seeking help of some sort with a workplace issue. There are many reasons why they get in touch, but for the most part, they fall into one or more of the following categories:
1. Problems with managers
Many approach me for help dealing with a problem with a manager. Usually, this is a recently appointed manager who has a different style of working than their previous manager, and the employee is finding it difficult to work out what is expected of them. Often they feel they are being ‘managed out’ or may even have had capability or performance process commenced against them.
2. Problems with colleagues
Some employees have issues with colleagues. These can include personality conflicts, working style conflicts. In other cases, they are being bullied, or someone has accused them of bullying. Sometimes it’s office politics or they have fallen out of favour with a work team ‘clique’ and are being kept in the dark about team progress, etc. Often they have been trying to resolve the problem informally and have been ignored, or their feelings are not being taken seriously, or they’ve been suspended pending an investigation into their behaviour.
3. Personal issues
Others get in touch because a change in their life circumstances has meant the working environment has become too difficult to manage. This may be because of pregnancy, child care arrangements, physical illness or mental health issues or even a location move. What worked previously, no longer works, and it’s taking its toll – mentally and physically. Unfortunately, we continue to live in a world whereby the news ‘I am pregnant’ is met with a grin through gritted teeth and the words ‘I am not well’ are met with ‘what do you want me to do about it?’
What have you done for me lately?
Life is complicated, more complicated for some than others. Some issues are permanent and have to be dealt with immediately but most are temporary and just require time, understanding and patience to resolve.
Some employers take the view that an employee with a problem is a drain, and issues to be dispensed with as quickly as possible so they can get back to their ‘day job’. They view employees with problems as a problem. Demanding their time when they have better things to do and always wanting more from them. The reality is that this is your ‘day job.’ This is the reality of running a business – problems that are your responsibility to resolve.
Support, Compassion and Time
The one prevailing theme in all the conversations I have with employees is the lack of support from employers in helping them deal with, and resolve, their issue. Yes, there are grievance processes both formal and informal, however, unfortunately by the time a grievance is raised matters have already escalated to the point of no return and an exit is the only real outcome available.
Managers and business owners need to step up out of their comfort zone and take some responsibility. Problems do not occur in a vacuum. They are not the making of one individual but the outcome of many factors – many of which are the responsibility of the employer to contain.
The When? What? And How?
When? We all know that problems don’t go away if you ignore them. People don’t wake up one morning with an entirely new mind set. Issues, problems whatever you want to call them need to be dealt with but should be addressed as soon as you become aware of them.
What? Resolving an issue may be facilitated by a ‘quiet chat’ and ‘open door’ policy but can only be addressed through genuine concern and non-judgemental and discriminatory attitudes which, let’s face it, still exist.
How? Employers, be they managers, business owners, well-established businesses or start-ups, need to ensure they are operating a 21st Century work environment with all its quirks, differences of opinion, languages, presumptions, and problems. Dig up the dinosaurs and drag them into the modern workplace, lead your team by example and train, retrain and keep training staff on best practice working practices such as dealing with mental health issues, flexible working, and generational differences.
Whether the problem originates within the working environment or outside of it, it affects the employee’s ability to work, and therefore it is an issue for the employer too – whether you/they want to admit it or not. Employers should look for ways to resolve the problem or at the very least lessen the impact of it. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also a smart commercial approach. Replacing staff is a lengthy and costly process, training staff once employed is a lengthy and costly process, getting a return from staff is a lengthy and costly process – be smart, be compassionate, be available.