Communication – the essential ingredient in a healthy employment relationship

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Communication is such a vital element of a good employment relationship that it has been detailed in New Zealand’s “Employment Law Bible” (the Employment Relations Act 2000) in the form of the “duty of good faith”.

Among other things, the duty of good faith requires employers and employees to be “responsive and communicative” in their employment relationship.

As with a healthy relationship of any kind, mutual satisfaction between an employer and an employee relies on communication.

What should you talk about?

For a start, talk about employment terms. Ensure these are signed and in writing in the form of an individual employment agreement before the first day.

Talk about job expectations. From the very beginning, communicate about the standards of behaviour and conduct expected of employees. Bring any policies or codes of conduct to new employees’ attention, and tell them when they are amended or updated.

Talk about performance. Let employees know when they’re doing well. This can be essential for building confidence and job satisfaction, especially if they are new or unsure. Everyone likes a compliment.

Inform employees when their performance is falling short of expectations. Although this is often an awkward conversation to have, everyone involved is better off with the issues in the open. It may open up dialogue about reasons for poor performance and unearth ways to facilitate improvement for the employee, the business, or both.

Talk about performance. Let employees know when they’re doing well. This can be essential for building confidence and job satisfaction, especially if they are new or unsure. Everyone likes a compliment.

It’s fine to give informal feedback about performance without going down the disciplinary route. When having this discussion, let the employee know that it’s just an informal chat and not a formal disciplinary process.

If an employer finds themselves having too many “informal chats” or, worse, not having the conversation with the employee at all, it might be time to commence a formal Performance Improvement Plan. There is a process to follow, but it is fairly straightforward. A good performance process either leads to the employee raising their game or the employer being able to terminate the employment. Ignoring the problem is not a healthy option. We see far too many cases of employers bottling up their concerns until they blow a fuse over something relatively small. Firing an employee in a fit of rage is a great invitation for a personal grievance.

When should you talk?

Workplaces of every kind benefit from regular meetings. Employers should set aside time for team meetings, performance reviews and more informal catch ups. Businesses are obliged to do this to comply with their Health & Safety duties anyway, so make that time cover multiple bases.

Isn’t this time better spent working? Not really. Employees are more engaged when they know what’s expected and what’s going on.

Keep the conversation flowing and reap the benefits

Employers should talk to their Employees and vice versa (the duty to communicate flows both ways). Everyone will be happier – a satisfied workforce with low staff turnover makes for a productive business.

WRMK’s employment team is experienced in all aspects of employment law, from setting up agreements, policies and procedures, to guiding parties through performance management or disciplinary processes. Please contact us if you have any questions about an employment relationship.