I have been listening to employees complain for over 20 years, so I know how frustrating it can be as a manager.

If you have ever attended a small business or management workshop you have probably heard the saying, “We spend 80% of our time managing people”.

The fact is, it doesn’t have to be that way. After years of managing people, and advising other managers on how to manage their people, I can confidently say that workplace conflict is mainly caused by two things:

• Lack of clear communication

• Perception of unfair treatment


But Sarah, I treat my employees fairly …

While you may be saying this to yourself right now, remember that what I’m referring to here is perception — which is something significantly more difficult to manage.

Years ago, I worked for a company that wanted to abolish their dress code policy in an effort to create a more casual and attractive workplace. Initially, it seemed like a great idea and employees were excited about it.

Fast-forward a few weeks later, and people are wearing pajama pants, tube tops, and white undershirts to the office. True story. I had at least five people in my office every single day, for the sole purpose of complaining about what someone else was wearing.

It was exhausting and a total waste of my time — and theirs. Once I realized this just wasn’t going to work, I easily created a new business-casual dress code, and everyone went back to work.

People both need and want these type of guidelines, and they are often what help to create the PERCEPTION that everyone is being treated fairly.

Setting Clear Expectations

When I am working with a client, we set clear expectations: deliverables and resources.

The same applies to employees. From an employee policy perspective, the best way to do this is to provide an employee manual. It can be hard or soft copy, and as formal (or informal) as you would like. Most importantly, it needs to be comprehensive and clear.

A solid employee manual addresses the following:

        Written by an expert, it will ensure you are compliant with all employment legislation

        Written and delivered clearly, it ensures everyone knows the guidelines

        When followed by management, employees are ultimately treated fairly

You will notice I use the word guidelines instead of rules.

This is because I believe employee policy should have “rubber walls”. There will always be a possible exception to every rule, but as long as it passes the “Red Face Test” (being able to communicate it without being embarrassed), then it works.

Sometimes, it’s obvious. For example, one of my past workplaces had customer parking close to the door, with staff parking far away. An employee was 8-months pregnant in February, and was nervous crossing the icy parking lot. So, we made an exception to the policy and had her park in customer parking — it just made sense and no one was going to question it.

Write policy that makes sense for your culture, but ensure you clearly communicate and articulate your expectations. It will allow your employees to get back to work, rather than worrying about what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

Sarah Mullins is the founder of uptreeHR, a Halifax-based human resource consulting firm that is passionate about helping business owners manage their people, set clear expectations, and increase performance. We truly believe you can treat your employees well, create an amazing culture, and not break the bank.

To book a complimentary 30-minute consult with Sarah, click here.

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