By Ann Boehm, April 17, 2023

As a FELTG instructor, I regularly hear comments from class participants. Supervisors often tell me they are frustrated by what they perceive as lack of support from the Human Resources (HR) professionals. But HR professionals often tell me that they aren’t psychic, and they cannot help supervisors who do not reach out to them and seek their help in dealing with a problem employee.

What we have here is a communication problem. Effective communication requires both talking and listening. And at its core, in the Federal personnel world, effective communication requires the supervisors and the HR professionals to listen and hear with the common goal of taking care of the agency’s mission by taking care of problem employees.

How do we improve the communication between managers and HR?

Let’s start with the talking. Supervisors need to reach out to HR when they first start realizing they have a problem employee.

Don’t delay – odds are that the problem is not going to go away. Allowing the situation to fester just leads to frustration, and even may complicate the process for handling the problem employee.

In addition, supervisors need to explain not just the issues with the employee, but how it impacts the supervisor’s job, their employees’ ability to perform their jobs, and – here’s that word again – MISSION. Supervisors, you cannot expect HR professionals to understand your workplace. They support people in very diverse areas of the agency. You need to educate them about the practical impact of the problem employee’s actions. And fundamentally, you need to ask them to help you.

Let’s now turn to listening. HR professionals, please listen to the supervisors and try your level best not to respond with, “You can’t do that.” You need to appreciate that when the supervisor comes to you, they are frustrated with the employee. You need to focus on how you can help them.

It’s highly likely that the supervisor will not understand the intricacies of discipline or performance in the Federal government, and their initial instincts may be a wee bit off base.

But HR professionals need to work with them to get them to a place of comporting with the law and still taking action to take care of the problem. Instead of “You can’t do that,” think about what steps can be taken to get on the path to successfully handling the problem employee. It’s your turn to educate them.

This sounds very simple, right? And in practice it should be. So, let’s review:

1) Supervisors, reach out to HR as soon as you realize you are having problems with the employee. Educate them on not just the employees’ problems, but the impact on your workplace.

2) HR professionals, use your skills to help the supervisor get on the right path to properly handling the problem employee. Appreciate the supervisor’s frustration and think creatively about the best way forward.

3) Supervisors and HR professionals, realize that the ultimate goal is to ensure the agency’s mission is fulfilled.

I know I’m an eternal optimist, but I truly believe that better communication is an easy way to handle problem employees.

And that’s Good News. [email protected]

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