Getting along with people at work is not always easy. Workplace relationships can be difficult but getting along with others is imperative for the success of every business. When relationships become dysfunctional, productivity and morale suffer.
Think about the normal workday; employees spend more time during a work day with colleagues than they do with family or friends. Who wants to spend eight hours or more in a day with miserable people? When an employee is behaving in a negative manner, it can become infectious in the workplace. Others will sense the tension and rumours can begin to circulate. Before you know it, the workplace atmosphere can become quite strained.
How do you prevent an escalation of negativity in the workplace? It is important that all employees know what behaviour is expected of them. Establishing expectations that require employees to communicate and relate to others in the workplace in a positive, open, honest and respectful manner is a great place to start. Such a requirement should be in every employee’s job description. When employees do not behave appropriately, their supervisor should intervene immediately to review behavioural expectations.
Employee relationships can also be strained by the means of communication; and while today’s technology can speed up the transmission of information and communication, it can cause relationship and communication problems. It is quicker to send an email or text message than it is to pick up the phone and discuss a matter with an employee. However, the brevity of messages sent by these means can often lead to misunderstandings. I have heard managers tell me about the “emotion” of the message sent. For example, “his message was so rude…” Email and text messages can imply but do not necessarily confirm the intent of the sender.
What to do? There was a time when telephone discussions were more predominant as a means of communication than they are in many workplaces today. Even a face-to-face meeting with an unhappy employee is not as common in many companies as it was in past years. We need to give careful consideration to how we communicate, what we communicate and what the best means of communication is. For issues of relationship problems between employees, face-to-face meetings are preferred and if this is not possible, then a telephone discussion would be the next best means of communication. Trying to resolve differences electronically is not effective.
So, let your employees know what is expected of them and be conscientious regarding the means of communication; ensure it is appropriate for the situation. And remember—as a supervisor or manager, your employees need those face-to-face meetings when there are issues to resolve!
Antoinette Blunt, MPA, SHRP, FCHRP is past chair of the Human Professionals Association (HRPA)—the regulator of the HR profession in Ontario. www.hrpa.ca