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Communicating during tough times: 7 common employee gripes (and how to respond)

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Performance Reviews

It’s a new day in the American workplace. The global financial meltdown has workers merely nervous on a good day, fearful for their jobs on an average day … and downright angry when their fears are about to be realized.

Recently, in Chicago, 250 unionized employees of Republic Windows and Doors staged a six-day sit-in that began when the company shut down with just three days' notice. Management said it couldn't borrow the working capital necessary to keep running. Furious workers said they were owed 60 days' notice of the shutdown—plus severance pay—under federal law and their union contract. Eventually, the workers accepted a deal to pay them severance, vacation time and temporary health care benefits.

Labor experts say this kind of ugliness can be avoided, even in today’s panic-inducing economy. The solution to staying productive (and in business) during tough times lies beyond labor relations and beyond compliance with the law.

Employers that plan on surviving the recession know that managers must engage employees now, acknowledging the fear and anger that can pollute the workplace.

Here are seven common complaints managers are likely to hear, along with some responses that can promote harmony in the office and on the shop floor. Please feel free to share them with your organization’s supervisors.

  1. “My boss doesn’t respect me.”
    • Get to know your employees as people.
    • Treat them as adults and respect their privacy.
    • Recognize that employees have lives outside work and try to accommodate those needs.
  2. “Nobody appreciates my hard work.”
    • Provide regular feedback and recognition.
    • Mix an equal number of “thank-yous” and “good jobs” with your critiques. Ask employees for their ideas, and then use them.
    • Thank and reward employees while they’re in the act of performing well; don’t wait for their next review.
  3. “There are different rules for different people.”
    • Focus on being fair and consistent with the workload, pay, perks and appreciation.
    • Be aware of the legal risks of making work decisions based on race, age, gender, religion or disability status.
  4. “My performance reviews are useless.”
    • Provide continuous feedback. Nothing in the review should come as a surprise.
    • Involve employees in setting goals, and adapt a development mind-set.
    • Focus on specific employee behaviors (and cite documented examples). Don’t criticize the person’s character traits.
    • Conduct reviews on time.
  5. “My boss micromanages my work.”
    • Realize that employees are not happy when they can’t make decisions. Delegate when possible.
    • Allow employees to have more say in how they do their work.
  6. “We have too many meetings.”
    • Institute a time limit on meetings.
    • Use a meeting facilitator.
  7. “I hate coming to work.”
    • Ask employees what specifically would improve their outlook. Try to at least meet them halfway.
    • Consider how you can enrich jobs (or juggle tasks among employees) to make them more motivated.

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