Trainers often get the chance to see firsthand what can happen when a breakdown in communication occurs between employees and their supervisors.
A woman once approached an ERC Trainer during a break in the training session who was very emotional and teary eyed. In her seven years with the company, not once had her boss asked how her weekend was. Her boss was a driver, with a direct, ‘Don’t waste my time, I don’t want to know about your personal life’ kind of attitude.
At a superficial level, that seems fine but employees sometimes feel they need interpersonal communication to achieve a certain level of trust. If an employee feels that their supervisor doesn’t care about them, they can become disengaged and even tune the boss out.
Maintaining good lines of communication is just one challenge managers and supervisors face. The management of conflict and performance, and management of potential liabilities can be tough hurdles to clear, too.
Failing to address any of these issues can lead to damaging consequences for an organization. Companies, though, can be proactive in avoiding these pitfalls through the support and development of their managers.
Here are 5 common challenges for managers and supervisors—and some practical ways to deal with them.
Managers frequently are not aware of the quality of their communication or, as the above example illustrates, how their communication or interpersonal style are perceived by their employees.
You can help managers understand their unique communication and interpersonal style and how to “flex” this style in different situations by providing communication templates, scripts, tips or checklists.
Engage in role-play or dialogue with the manager to help them practice their skills and identify opportunities for improvement. Additionally, educate managers on common communication breakdowns and how to avoid them and encourage managers to notice signs of communication problems (misunderstandings, consistent performance problems, etc.).
When all else fails, provide a personal coach if communication problems persist
Many managers ignore problems and do not directly address conflicts with their employees or work team.
Whether these are performance problems, conflicts among team members, issues of trust or personality clashes, managers are challenged to confront and address problems head-on and as they emerge, diffuse employees’ feelings and emotions about the problem, listen to both parties’ needs and desires, derive win-win solutions that lead to more productive and positive work relations, and prevent conflict in the future by nurturing positive coworker relationships and recognizing potential for conflict or problems early.
Managers must balance meeting goals, managing workloads and motivating employees. These issues, coupled with the fact that many managers are ill-equipped to provide regular and constructive feedback and may not understand the importance of documenting performance, can make managing performance challenging.
To support them, build on-going performance feedback into the performance management process to ensure accountability. Create an easy method for managers to document performance like a database, log, or diary. Provide support tools for managers such as rewards, recognition, training, and development to recognize and build performance. Most importantly, train managers in topics such as performance management, coaching, and feedback since many will have had no experience with these.
Handle protected employees.
Most managers are not well-versed in administering ADA, FMLA and other laws that protect certain groups of employees, but unknowingly find themselves managing an employee who requires an accommodation, leave of absence or falls into a protected class.
These situations need to be handled delicately due to their legal nature, so make managers aware of:
- Legal basics such as conditions or disabilities that are protected
- How to determine essential functions and reasonable accommodations
- Requirements associated with FMLA (eligibility, length of time, etc.)
- Types of employees that are protected under law (gender, race, national origin, etc.)
- Hiring and interviewing liabilities (questions to ask/not ask, etc.)
Administer policies fairly and consistently.
One of the most common challenges for managers is treating employees fairly and consistently. A manager may allow policies and rules to be disregarded by some employees and not others—or may disregard employment policies altogether. “Stretching” the rules for some employees can open up a range of potential liabilities and perceptions of bias and favoritism that have negative far-reaching effects in the workplace.
Be sure to write clear policies and let managers know when changes have been made. Set clear criteria for making employment decisions, particularly where managers need to distinguish between employees (recognition, reward, development, etc.). Also, clearly differentiate between the policies in which managers have discretion to implement and those in which they do not.