Getting staff communication right
Effective communication is integral to managing staff. And how you communicate and the method you use can be make-or-break when handling challenging situations. And if you manage or supervise staff, getting it right can minimise the risk of costly mistakes.
Proper training in communication and record-keeping is a must for all managers or supervisors. But if you need an overview, we've gathered together some of the considerations involved.
When discussing more serious matters it is advisable to hold a face-to-face meeting where possible. If you need to discuss an employee’s performance or conduct, the meeting will need to be appropriately planned for. An agenda should be prepared prior to the meeting outlining the matters to be discussed and details of any relevant evidence. Take comprehensive notes during the meeting and keep them on file as evidence.
Serious consideration should be given to the information being given, and the way it is being communicated when interviewing prospective employees. The interviewer needs to have a set of pre-prepared questions to ensure all necessary information is obtained. The questions should seek to focus on evaluating the candidates' skills, abilities, qualifications, and experience and avoid any potentially discriminatory topics.
The interviewer must also avoid making any promises to candidates that may not be able to be fulfilled. A contract of employment can be formed verbally and any benefits, entitlements or conditions offered during an interview may be legally binding.
In the case of McRae v Watson Wyatt Australia Pty Ltd in 2008, an employee was awarded $106,000 in damages for a breach of contract when her employer did not honour a promise that was made to her during her interview. During the pre-employment interview, the company claimed it would provide three weeks payment for every year of service should her role be made redundant. When the employee’s position was made redundant some seven years later, however, the company failed to provide this more beneficial severance payment.
Effective and appropriate communication is an integral part of the redundancy process. The majority of industrial instruments outline a consultation obligation where employers are considering or implementing major change, including redundancies.
In order to meet this consultation obligation, employers must inform all employees who are likely to be affected by the redundancies, either directly or indirectly, prior to any final decisions being made. This may be done individually or in a group setting, however communicating final decisions should be done individually in a private setting.
Members should contact the Employee Relations Advice Centre on for more information on Redundancy obligations on (08) 9365 7660 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
An essential part of the performance management process is clearly outlining to the employee the issues with their performance and/or conduct, with examples, and allowing them to respond. As with any formal meeting, an agenda should be set, and the employee should be made aware of the purpose of the meeting ahead of time.
It is important to remember that performance management or disciplinary meetings should be a two-way discussion whereby the responses of the employee should be listened to and considered.
Take extensive notes as evidence of the discussion and follow-up documentation should be forwarded to the employee confirming:
- Details of the meeting
- Issue(s) discussed
- Employee’s response(s)
- Follow up action and time-frames.
Members should contact the CCIWA Employee Relations Advice Centre for more information on performance management matters on (08) 9365 7660 or via email email@example.com.
Managing employees who are suffering from illnesses or injuries or are coping with personal issues is often very challenging for employees. The most integral part of appropriately managing such situations is effective communication.
Employers must ensure that any conversations are dealt with in a sensitive manner and any potentially discriminatory comments are avoided.
Where performance issues are being discussed, discussions should centre around obtaining as much information as possible regarding the nature of the employee’s issue in order to determine whether or not they are able to safely perform their duties, and whether any adjustments can be made to the job to assist the employee.
It is also important to respect the privacy of the employee and ensure that any discussions remain confidential. If the situation requires other individuals to become involved, this should be discussed with the employee.
Where any important discussions are being had, it is important to take the following steps to reduce the risks of claims:
1. Take notes of conversations
2. Avoid language that may be inappropriate or discriminatory
3. Check policies, procedures, industrial instruments and contracts of employment for any specific communication obligations.
- Organise a private venue away from others in the workplace for private conversations
- Adequately prepare for formal discussions
- Follow up any formal communication in writing
- Allow employees a right of reply and a support person where appropriate
- Detail specific examples
- Use appropriate and professional language at all times
- Offer further training and support (e.g. employee assistance program (EAP))
- Speak clearly and calmly
- Discuss irrelevant personal matters
- Discuss illness or injury beyond implications for the workplace
- Make discriminatory comments
- Make unfounded accusations
- Speak in a threatening or aggressive manner
- Discuss private matters in a public setting
A simple rule for writing good emails: if you aren't comfortable with what you've written being shared in a court of law, it needs review.
Email and instant messaging systems are useful communication tools in the workplace, particularly when communicating memos or information about policies and procedures to the entire workforce.
But it is essential that any information put in writing via email or instant messaging is professional and does not contain any personal or sensitive information or information that could be misconstrued or used to the business's detriment.
The good and bad thing about email: it's a record. Every sentence must be accurate and nonambiguous. It can also be a very impersonal medium, so may not be the first port of call if you want to discuss something sensitive.
As a side note: if you're sending an important email, especially outside the company, it may be worth following up to make sure it's been received and hasn't ended up in spam.
Telephone is instant, convenient, and can be a great way to ask questions and clear up misunderstandings. It's also a great way to get work done while mobile. But if you have an important conversation with an employee, or even a customer, make a record of the date, time and particulars. Depending on the circumstances, follow up with an email or other written confirmation of the conversation.
The same rules about following up on important conversations apply to videoconferencing, but with a few extra considerations. It's important to schedule and communicate agendas on sensitive topics. It's not necessarliy as private as a telephone call. If you are talking to employees working from home, it's worth considering what other factors may be at play in the environment.
While use of the technology soared during COVID-19 restrictions, some research suggests it can also be a fairly tiring medium. The pro: if you're speaking to multiple parties, it allows for collaboration more easily than phone calls.