When employees share concerns with leaders, it’s paramount to respond with care and empathy. Leaders can think of it as an opportunity to build trust. For most employees, sharing concerns with a leader can be uncomfortable and require courage and vulnerability.
A fool-proof, step-by-step guide on responding to employee concerns does not exist. Leaders can be patient with themselves as they might not always get it right. Leaders are human, and responding to concerns may require more than one conversation. Be ready for that.
How we respond to employee concerns may require a varied approach. Although the concepts listed below are presented linearly, leaders can apply them in any order.
Listen and Be Genuine – This is a time to remain quiet and calm. We sometimes communicate more with our facial expressions than with our words. Ensure you are projecting an energy that invites the employee to share their concerns. Take notes. Employees often see this as a sign that you take their concerns seriously.
Say Thank You – After the employee has shared their concerns, always say thank you. Try and take the concerns, even if they are directed at you or someone in the team, objectively.
Don’t Take it Personally – Remember, you are the leader in this situation, and even if the employee’s concern implies there is fault on your end, pause, breathe, and take a moment to reflect.
Empathize – This is an excellent opportunity to let the employee know you appreciate them for sharing their concerns and that you acknowledge it takes courage and vulnerability to do so.
Identify the Problem – Sometimes, the root cause of a problem is not obvious. Employees often think long and hard about their concerns before voicing them. It’s possible that the employee’s perception of where the problem lies, and their suggestion on how to fix it, may be flawed.
Ask Questions – If appropriate, ask questions and request more information. If employee concerns involve sensitive information that may require an investigation, partner with Human Resources to help resolve the issue. Be sure to share the concept of “limited confidentiality with the employee.”
Respond – Now you can respond and offer possible solutions. If you can, get buy-in from the employee on the solution. Remember, you don’t have to have an answer right away. As a leader, you can request time from the employee to review your notes, think about what they shared, and follow up.
Follow Up – Always, always, always follow-up! It is the only way to ensure that the solutions explored are working. Employees do not want to be perceived as a burden on their leaders and often will not share if the proposed solution is working or not.
Responding to employee concerns can be difficult and complex. Leaders are encouraged to partner with Human Resources to respond to employee concerns. We all need help sometime and having an advocate can turn a difficult situation into an opportunity to build trust with employees.