Managers with these habits have much happier relationships with their employees and are less likely to find themselves in employment law trouble.
1. Hire mindfully. When it comes to employment law problems, an ounce of prevention is worth 10 pounds of cure. Always check references and thoroughly vet resumes and applications, looking for holes and inconsistencies. If you take time to hire thoughtfully, 95% of problem employees can be prevented from even setting foot in your office. Problem employees are likeliest to slip in one of two ways: 1) when you’re so slammed that you’re just hiring as fast as you can without taking time to vet candidates, or 2) when you or your business has a personal connection to the candidate, which lulls you into thinking you don’t need to vet them. Make the time, and trust but verify.
2. Make time for managing. Don’t assume that because you are good at designing buildings, writing code, or managing accounts that you are automatically good at managing others to do those tasks. Employee management is its own skill set and takes time to learn. The biggest management errors usually happen not because the manager bore any kind of hostility but because the manager didn’t listen to employees or set clear expectations. This may sound obvious, but management takes time and adds an extra layer of work on top of your core responsibilities. If you don’t think about employee management as one of your core responsibilities and organize your day or your week to make time for your employees, you will quickly fall behind and your whole team will suffer (and, incidentally, your employees will start to hate you). A safe rule of thumb is 20 minutes per employee per day. If you manage a team of ten, expect to spend 15–20 hours a week dealing with their issues. When you add that to your own work, it becomes critical to building this time into your schedule.
3. Give employee feedback early and often. When employees mess up, let them know right away, ideally the day it happens or the next day. Be straightforward and specific: here’s the problem, here’s how it happened, and here’s how to fix it. This not only gives employees the chance to improve, but it also helps them know exactly where they stand at all times, which will make your relationships with them much easier. By the same token, offer small bites of positive reinforcement when they impress you, being sure to mention exactly what they’re doing right. You’ll likely see more of the same.
4. Find a performance management system that works for you and stick with it. Many managers make disciplinary mistakes when problems arise that they had not anticipated. Fairness and consistency are the watchwords of compliant discipline, and having a plan ahead of time helps a lot.
- If you have a discipline policy or program handed to you from the higher-ups, this is pretty simple. Learn the discipline procedure, understand the situations where it applies, and use it fairly and consistently.
- If a specific system doesn’t already exist, sketch one out to use as a guide. Brainstorm some tools: informal counseling, verbal warnings, written warnings, suspensions, a points system, remedial training, probation, etc., and gather some thoughts about the types of issues that might warrant the use of each tool.
- When you’re stressed and flummoxed, pull out your guide to point you in the right direction. This will keep you from making reactive, arbitrary decisions and foster a sense of fairness and consistency in the office. If you find you can’t stick to the system, be sure to get help with it before it becomes a pattern.
5. Keep an employee relations journal. Much of the day-to-day of managing employees is quick and informal and won’t be captured on the perfunctory corrective action forms. Develop the habit now of ending the day by briefly recapping your interactions with your employees. Your recap can include details about performance, conduct, or interpersonal issues, as well as major problems or conflicts, in addition to any formal disciplinary documentation. A sentence or two is fine. Keep it straightforward and objective: “Don was 10 minutes late to the staff meeting again today; I addressed it with him briefly afterward” or “Vanessa stepped up in the meeting and covered for Don until he got there; sent a quick email this afternoon to thank her.” This will help you spot problems early, create invaluable contemporaneous documentation, and will be a HUGE help to you when it is time to do periodic reviews.
6. Keep your superiors looped into problems and processes. Share your employee relations journal and disciplinary actions with your superior and HR so they have a quick and easy way to get up to speed on what’s been going on in your office. Meet with them periodically to go over sticky issues and get advice, especially ahead of major personnel actions (termination, for example). Whatever you do, don’t sit on it, and don’t keep your management policies and problems to yourself. It increases the chances you will be blamed for a subordinate’s mistake. Likewise, if you make your own performance management system, be sure to get your superior’s and HR’s input into design and application. They can give you valuable guidance on what’s working and what’s not with greater objectivity.
7. Become an ace red-flag spotter. A big employment law responsibility that falls to managers is to recognize opportunities when the company needs to act. For example, when you need to report a workplace injury, investigate and correct harassment, extend a reasonable accommodation for a disability, or offer family and medical leave. The list goes on and on.
- Learn the company’s reporting procedures for workers compensation claims, discrimination and harassment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Make sure you understand your role in the process. If you are reporting step two of three, for instance, that means the employee’s first attempt was unsatisfactory, which means by the time it gets to you, you will not be dealing with happy campers.
- Also get guidance from HR or an employment law expert on circumstances that may trigger your duty to act that are less obvious. Employees often don’t use magic words to trigger the duty; sometimes indirect indicators are sufficient. Effectively spotting them, though, is an advanced skill that requires expert advice, so be sure to get the help of HR or an employment lawyer.
- If you’re a middle manager, it’s essential to recognize when a problem is above your pay grade and should become your manager’s or HR’s problem. Quickly escalating something you don’t have to handle will make your life easier and limit the chances you’ll be held responsible for negative outcomes.
Need Help from an Atlanta Employment Law Attorney?
We’re here to help if you still have questions about management compliance. The Atlanta attorneys at Stanton Law are experienced in a variety of Georgia employment law topics and always help you understand what the law means for your business, your employees, and your bottom line. We are committed to helping owners, managers, and entrepreneurs remain focused on growing their companies and implementing their ideas. Please contact us today at 404-531-2341.