Difficult conversations during the festive season

08 December 2020

With Christmas and New Year’s fast approaching, employer’s need to remain cognisant of difficult conversations that they should be having with employees, and the pitfalls of putting them off because 'it's Christmas'.

Difficult conversations during the festive season

With Christmas and New Year’s Eve fast approaching, employers need to remain cognisant of difficult conversations that they should be having with employees, and the pitfalls of putting them off because 'it’s Christmas'.

Difficult conversations may involve providing notice to employees of forced leave due to office closures, redundancies, addressing work performance issues and expected behaviour of employees with work colleagues or clients at work-related functions. Having these difficult conversations at any early stage may prevent unnecessary escalation of those matters.

Addressing work performance and conduct issues

Employees underperforming in their role can have major implications for businesses and as we progress towards the end of the year, many workplaces will be transitioning into 'holiday mode' particularly after a year of major changes and adaptations. Simply because it is the festive season, employers should not delay addressing poor performance and are encouraged to proactively implement strategies whether that be in the form of training or setting personalised KPIs to assist in improving employee performance.

That said, where an employee’s performance is of concern, employers should take steps to determine whether the employee is aware of their expectations. Having a job description, relevant policies, performance targets and data at hand will enable you to show the employee how they are underperforming, and what is expected of them. Putting this conversation off until after Christmas may indicate that there is no issue with their performance, which may create difficulties when those same issues are raised down the track.

Similarly, where an employee’s behaviour or conduct is not acceptable, or employee grievances are raised, employers should not delay investigating and, if necessary, taking disciplinary action. Importantly, where an employer delays addressing matters of conduct in particular, such delay may be construed (by both the employee and the Fair Work Commission) as acceptance of the behaviour.

It is important for employers to demonstrate a considered approach, affording procedural fairness, and complying with any of the employer’s own policies and procedures. Employers should not to overlook what may seem like a 'small' complaint, as something 'small' could escalate to affect the entire workplace.

Repercussions of turning a blind eye to workplace performance and conduct issues may include claims for adverse action, anti-bullying orders, and unfair dismissal. Such claims may be avoided through early identification to determine how to de-escalate any potential issues.

A few practical ways to address difficult conversations include:

  • having the conversation or discussion in person;
  • ensure there are detailed written records;
  • remaining objective; there should be a focus on the issue rather than the person;
  • providing the opportunity to have a support person during difficult conversations;
  • keeping an open mind; and
  • consider the employee’s responses to the matters raised.

Dealing with these issues on a proactive basis will assist to prevent costly outcomes in the New Year.

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