- Alan has turned up to work and a colleague has reported he smells of alcohol
- Jack who has worked for you for 20 years has just told you he’s been diagnosed with sleep apnoea – he’s one of your best drivers
- Amy has had three crashes in three months – she sometimes wears glasses in the office, but not when driving.
The ability to be able to talk about very sensitive and emotive issues is an integral part of effective line management and can be critical to managing performance, promoting attendance and improving team dynamics.
The good news is that there are some very practical steps you can take to help you handle these conversations better and, where possible, get the right outcome for you, the employee and the organisation.
The key to mastering one-to-one interactions at work – particularly where it concerns someone’s health, ability to driver and future employment - is remaining calm and in control of the situation by:
- putting clear boundaries in place
- control your emotions , have the confidence to face whatever problem comes your way
- plan and record the action you plan to take.
Many line managers go into difficult conversations with very good intentions but often make the mistake of prolonging or intensifying the problem rather than restricting or resolving it.
Knowing when to expand a conversation – by seeking clarification and gaining understanding – and when to restrict it – in terms of deciding what happens next – can often only be learned through experience.
In some cases, you may be the only person who can deal with it, however if you are part of a larger organisation, you may have a more senior manager or HR Advisor to take over the case or to at least provide support and guidance.
In any case, you will most likely be the first point of contact for the employee and how you deal with the initial conversation will set the foundation for what follows.
Let’s first of all look at the source of the information, for example:
- was it an anonymous/rumour/complaint
- something you have personally observed
- colleague notification or
- self-referral by the driver
As you are dealing with the issue of an employee possibly being unfit to drive, you may have to take immediate action to prevent a serious incident from taking place.
The Immediate intervention could be as a result of something you have personally witnessed or something that one of your employees has raised.
The situation, could, for example, involve alcohol or drugs or could be fatigue or health related.
If it is an alcohol or drugs related matter it becomes more difficult as you have to decide whether or not to involve the police.
If it is an accusation from a third party/anonymous, you have to consider that it may be malicious or that it may have been made with the best of intentions, but still may be incorrect. In this instance seek corroboration and supporting evidence.
The ACAS website has useful resources on preparing for difficult conversations with your staff.