An engaged employee is held capable and trusts that you will consistently treat them with integrity, impartiality, and respect. Gentle, honest, open, specific, talk with your staff will set the ground work for a relationship that will pay dividends when the tide turns and it comes time to ask the difficult questions.
As a supervisor you have a duty to accommodate, and you have a right to know. We may feel backed into situations where we hesitate to ask the difficult questions, or we confuse a person’s right to privacy with our own right, and indeed duty, to foster an open, constructive and productive working environment.
Let’s take the example of a suspected addiction. You notice increasingly erratic behaviour with a particular employee, and their sick days are on the rise. How do you balance your need to know with their right to privacy? How do you identify when your duty to accommodate kicks in? Under Alberta Human Rights legislation addiction is considered a disability and the duty to accommodate may apply. If this is the case, you need a doctor’s note, even as you cannot inquire about a staff member’s complete medical history. How do you verify your hunch? What if, based on past experience with the employee, you are wondering if the poor behaviour is simply workplace foolishness? How can you be sure? It is also not unusual for biases to get in the way of sound decision-making. Our own view of, or experience with, addictions may be getting in the way of our approach.
In this procedural and legal minefield it is imperative to discuss your proposed actions with your HR department and/or a senior manager. Once that has been done, and you have decided on a procedural plan, the relationship you have built with your staff member will stand you in good stead. If you have consistently conducted your conversations with a gentle, honest, open, specific protocol, and if you consistently hold your staff member capable and trust that they are doing the best they can with what they know, then you have the foundation in place to conduct a conversation to learn what you need to know to move forward. You will be able to discuss a medical condition frankly, and in a safe space, and determine if it is indeed a condition which limits the staff’s ability to perform their duties.
The gentle, honest, open specific, talk (or GHOST) protocol is a protocol for speaking and listening:
- Gentle: to say what needs to be said in a manner that does not raise defenses in the other party;
- Honest: to be true to what is on your mind, and your emotional reaction to the situation;
- Open: to be open to new information, and to allow it to influence your thinking;
- Specific: to illustrate what you have to say with clarifying examples and to avoid generalizations;
- Talk: to take the opportunity of a confidential, safe space to say what you are thinking when it is important. Thinking not Talking is TNT – dangerous!
Modeling GHOST, describing GHOST, and inviting others to use it will set the foundation for improved communication and better information. With each conversation you will build your foundation for establishing and maintaining employee engagement and a productive working environment.