Five Ways Employers Become Their Own Worst Enemies

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Jan 12, 2021
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five ways employers become their own worst enemy

Sometimes companies are adversely impacted by circumstances beyond their control. Exhibit A: The 2020 pandemic. 

Other times, however, employers are the only ones to blame when employee relations go south. Here are five common ways companies do themselves more harm than good:

1. Dumb Rules

Senseless or overly heavy-handed rules stifle organizations and tank morale. Workplace policies are important, but any that imply employees aren’t smart enough to figure out some basics send the wrong message and tend to create a backlash against management.

Examples of some of the rules that frustrate office workers across America include:

  • Rigid, old-fashioned dress codes
  • Penalties for occasionally arriving at work a few minutes late
  • Having to give the company any frequent flyer miles earned while traveling on business 

People are happier when they are respected, and no one feels that way when employers put command-and-control-type restrictions in place. When employees feel like they are being treated like teenagers, their engagement, job satisfaction and productivity levels suffer. When they’re treated like responsible adults and valued team members, they likely will perform accordingly.

2. Inflexibility

To the extent possible, employers should make allowances for individual employee needs – even when reasonable accommodations are not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act or an employee’s religious beliefs.

Emphasize quality of work over time spent in the office, for instance, and ease up on any regulations that require exempt employees to begin or end their workdays at exact times. Take into account if employees have young children at home when scheduling early-morning meetings, and recognize that some staffers may be most productive in the afternoon or vice versa.

Find as many ways as you can to meet employees where they are. It signals how much you appreciate them. Often, doing so costs nothing but yields high returns.

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3. Acting Impulsively

Most people know that making big decisions when they’re angry is ill-advised.

So, no matter how egregious an employee’s misstep, remember that it is never a bad idea to push pause on punitive action until you’ve been able to step back and look at the situation as unemotionally as possible. Instead of firing an employee on the spot, for example, ask the offender to take a day or two off while you consider your options.

That will give you time to regain your composure and perhaps consult with trusted advisors, your HR department or Axcet HR Solutions. Armed with that additional direction, you can more objectively determine whether termination is the right call. A reminder: If other employees have committed similar blunders and not been terminated, you could risk a discrimination claim if you treat the offending employee differently.

4. Lack of Essential Training

If you don’t train employees on important workplace issues like harassment and safety, you’ve both lost an opportunity to identify areas that need improvement and increased your legal liability. Just conducting related training, for instance, can give you a viable defense against a harassment claim. 

Besides potentially helping you win a lawsuit, training courses remind supervisors how to notice problems and properly handle complaints and teach employees what to do if they are affected. Training that encourages employees to “say something if they see something” also can bring to light situations that might otherwise have gone unspoken, giving you the chance to rectify a problem before it escalates.

Employees must participate in training programs at regular intervals if they are to retain the knowledge over time and modify their behavior. Don’t count on them to recall the point of a course they took months ago or even be able to say when the training occurred unless it was recent – both questions they likely would be asked by a plaintiff’s attorney. Increase the odds they can hold up under legal pressure and, more importantly, internalize and practice the learnings, by requiring their participation in frequent training efforts.

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5. Giving Bad Managers a Pass

It remains true that employees typically leave managers, not companies. It makes sense, given that no one has more influence over a direct report’s work-life than his or her immediate supervisor. So, if an abusive or manipulative boss goes unchecked, that behavior inevitably leads to low employee productivity at best and high turnover at worst.

As an employer, you can help create good managers by:

  • Helping your supervisors better manage their time. Don’t inundate them with bureaucratic demands like unnecessary reports and cumbersome procedures.
  • Implement practices that promote the human connection between managers and their teams, whether that is positioning them more closely together physically (post-pandemic, of course) or holding team-building activities.
  • Encourage managers to give their employees regular feedback so there are fewer surprises during performance reviews.

To Identify Toxic Managers

  • Keep the HR lines of communication open by regularly inviting employees to talk openly and directly to upper management. This may be facilitated through anonymous hotlines or multi-source reviews that enable workers to critique their bosses.
  • Listen for clues and ask exploratory questions when talking with employees and their bosses. Employees who, for example, talk about pressure they feel may indicate or outright reveal that interpersonal issues with their supervisors is causing stress if pressed for further explanation. On the other side of the equation, it should raise HR red flags if managers say “I” instead of “we” a lot or resort to blaming.

Steps to Take Once You've Identified a Bad Manager

Creating a cohesive and productive workplace is impossible if you don’t deal with poor managers. Once you identify the bad apples:

  • An HR specialist should confront them with the imperative that they must make changes. The behavioral problems should be communicated as specifically as possible. Has the manager been described as a “bully” or “explosive,” for example? If so, he or she should be informed of those specifics. The HR specialist should explain that resolution is expected within a certain timeframe.
  • Inform the manager that HR will be documenting future performance.
  • Offer training to equip the manager with the tools needed to improve his or her interpersonal skills.
  • Employee assistance – such as counseling – also may be indicated, especially if you have reason to believe a person’s main issues are emotional or alcohol- or drug-related.

Running a business is hard enough, but stacking the deck against yourself makes it even more difficult. Set yourself up for success by using common sense, keeping your eyes open for the problems mentioned above and remembering that employees are human beings who want to be treated fairly. Doing so will ensure a positive work environment.

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Table of Contents

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Why Employers Should Support Time Away From Work
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