The Best Employee Problem Solving Tool in the Box: Part 2

Solving common workplace problems requires knowledge, patience and knowing how to use the human resources system effectively. Here are some quick tips for supervisors that may be helpful in solving some of the most nagging problems.

More about a simple tool that addresses concerns before they become problems.

We left off with a simple guidance and direction memo addressing telephone use.

So what are some very good reasons to consider using the tool:

It’s a non-disciplinary way to let an employee know your concerns.

If you read the memo, you’ll notice that it’s not a warning i.e., it carries no mention of consequences or future discipline. The focus is on identifying the problem and setting the employee on the road to fixing it. It is also difficult to grieve as it is merely a written direction requiring the employee to carry out work during work hours. Sure, almost anything can be grieved. But if that stops you, you probably don’t want the problem fixed.

It’s a fair way to address an issue.

The goal is to tailor the memo to an individual. You may hear the typical complaint, “Why was I singled out for this?” If you’re being fair, the answer is, “Because you’re the only person I’ve observed engaging in this behavior.” Go back and read the telephone use memo. Note that it references an earlier discussion, is not accusatory and the overall tone is instructional and helpful.

It contains important elements of “due process”.

Most people’s list of due process concerns start with “a rule exists” and “the employee knew the rule”. Well-constructed guidance and direction memos seek to ensure that an employee is provided the applicable rule and strongly encouraged to read it. A good memo leaves little doubt of the manager’s intent by advising the employee that it is effective upon receipt.

It involves the employee in the outcome.

The employee in the sample memo must keep a log to show phone use. Most people in this situation would likely assess the manager’s intent and make sure their phone use complies with the policy. At the very least, the employee with an I.Q. over 15 would recognize that the manager wants them to clean up their act and make strides in that direction.

It can stop a problem dead in its tracks.

With any luck and it is most often the case, the employee gets it, corrects the problem and moves on. Once you are sure the problem is solved, call the employee in and have a memo shredding ceremony thanking them for their cooperation.

It may smoke out bigger problems.

I have seen employees state their intent to refuse to follow a guidance and direction memo and otherwise react inappropriately upon receipt of the memo. Obviously the goal is correction not provocation. We certainly do not want to set an employee up. However, their employment relationship is in the person’s own hands. We’ll discuss what to consider doing in these situations in a later part of this series.

In the Part 3 of this article, we’ll look at how to tailor memos to specific issues and crucial components each memo should have. In the meantime, take a look at a Courtesy and Demeanor Memo.

By the way, the views I express here are mine alone, neither FedSmith’s nor GRA’s. Also, make sure you discuss your concerns and coordinate any action with an employee relations advisor from your HR office.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.