How to tackle those ‘difficult’ situations in the workplace

Here, Amanda Smith from the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association takes a look at how you can best support these employees and positive steps you can take to help mitigate the negative impact of these ‘difficult’ situations.

Recognise the impact on performance and productivity

It is inevitable that every employee will experience difficult issues of some sort at home and work that will have a direct impact on their performance and productivity. Because your employees are all different and the issues they face are too, it is important to respond with a variety of supportive interventions that enable employees to understand that your organisation is one that cares about its employees and remind them of the vital role they play in the success of the business.

Define your commitment to your people

Every organisation can be impacted by the effects of bullying, harassment or domestic violence so it makes business sense to address these issues and put a policy in place that supports organisational processes. Within the policy you should acknowledge that incidents such as bullying and harassment are unlawful, as well as including examples that highlight the types of behaviour that constitute these incidents and the consequences of committing this type of behaviour in the workplace.

State clearly your firm commitment as an employer to support employees when it comes to this type of issue. This commitment can be supported in practice with a strong organisational policy that also reaffirms your legal duty, as an employer, to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees.

Foster a positive culture

Setting organisational standards around your expectations of values and behaviour will help to foster a culture where employees feel able and supported to raise ‘difficult’ topics. As an owner or manager it is important to communicate with your employees what they can expect from you as an employer and, in return, what your expectations may be of them.

Encourage line managers to support employees

Managers themselves need to be supported to listen and respond effectively and fairly to employees experiencing difficult life events. Consider the skills and expertise of your managers and whether they need training and advice on how to spot the signs and symptoms of employees facing difficulties and how to respond and signpost appropriately to the support that is available in your organisation.

Managers should also have an awareness of their own management style on individuals and teams. Look into training in mental health awareness that identifies the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues. Bullying and domestic violence can both lead to mental ill health, stress, anxiety and workplace problems so it’s important that managers are informed and aware.

Offer access to counselling

Counselling can provide individuals with the opportunity to disclose and manage issues relating to bullying, harassment and domestic violence, supporting them to solve problems or seek further help. Employee Assistance Programmes where counselling and a range of other services, including confidential telephone helplines, are available to employees and can provide support and information, as well as signposting individuals to organisational policies and processes.

Review open access to information

Although you may have put your policy in place, appointed an EAP and trained your managers to spot the signs of an employee in trouble, take a few moments to ensure that all employees can access the support you’ve invested in. Are you advertising support services such as EAPs well to all staff, even those without computer access or who aren’t based in your main office? And do you actively implement the ‘open access’ culture that you’ve worked so hard to create?

Incidents such as bullying, harassment and domestic violence will, by their very nature, have a hugely negative impact on employees and, as such, on their colleagues and you as their line manager. Whilst they are in themselves separate issues with their own complexities and strategies for support, there are a number of commonalities in terms of the help, support and management that you, as their employer, can offer and help to mitigate the impact they have on your organisation and your people.

Amanda K Smith is an Executive Board member of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association, as well as Psychotherapist and Head of Health and Wellbeing at Work at Mersey Care NHS Trust.