Tuesday, 27 February 2024 10:31

Who pays for Difficult Conversations?

When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction. If this was a business deal, we wouldn’t trade a long-term investment for a short-term win. So why would we do the same with communication in the workplace? Especially when there is so much to gain from having confidence during what is perceived to be a difficult conversation.

There are many reasons why a conversation can be perceived to be ‘difficult’. Feeling uncomfortable is the main reason. It’s not fun to provide constructive feedback or to challenge someone’s behaviour. Equally, there is a fear that the conversation won’t go well, or the employee might become emotional. The expectation of conflict may prevent the manager or employer having that conversation. Overall, what makes a conversation difficult is being ill equipped to deal with such communication.

So, who pays for these conversations when they don’t take place?

Ultimately it is the business that pays for a lack of difficult conversations. One of the most significant risks of avoiding a difficult conversation in the workplace is the potential for litigious action. The Worker Protection Act 2023 means that employers will need to comply with a new duty to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment of employees. This subject creates potential uncomfortable situations where employers, managers and the team will need to be briefed on what constitutes sexual harassment and their responsibilities to this law. Managers will need to have the confidence to stop the team when undignified conversations are taking place. When managers fail to intervene and address inappropriate behaviour, they not only perpetuate a toxic work environment but leave the organisation vulnerable to legal repercussions and financial penalties.

The team pays for a lack of difficult conversations through low productivity. Providing performance feedback may include conversations surrounding poor performance, missed targets and behavioural problems. A manager may view this subject matter as difficult. When managers fail to provide timely feedback and coaching, the entire team suffers. This poor performance will persist, drag down morale and impede progress within the team. As a result, not only does the team ‘morale’ suffer but the organisation can potentially pay the price in terms of missed deadlines, suboptimal outcomes and not reaching targets.

Conversations create workplace culture. Transparent communication ensures a culture where all employees are on the same page, feel appreciated and valued. All communication is important to create a safe and open culture. Avoiding difficult conversations takes a toll on employee engagement because there is an erosion of morale within the organisation. When concerns go unaddressed, it creates an environment where gossip, hear say and rumours can manifest. The business pays for this with high turnover rates, difficulty attracting top talent and a toxic workplace.

We can translate these negative effects into financial figures. Missed deadlines leads to delayed product deliveries and strains relationships with customers. Having unhappy customers shortens their life cycle and prevents repurchases. High employee turnover rates speak for itself. Recruitment is expensive. Training is expensive. If employees are actively looking for another job, then it is highly likely that they are not being productive in their role. They are ‘quiet quitting’. This lack of productivity alongside these costs further impacts the business’ finances negatively.

The true cost of avoiding a difficult conversation is far greater than the temporary discomfort the manager or employer might feel. By embracing these conversations as part of a healthy communication cycle, businesses can ensure high productivity, engaged employees and prevent litigation risk. This ultimately improves the financial output of the business.

Having confidence in these conversations is not easy. Come along to our free one-hour seminar on Wednesday 6th March 09:30-10:30am where we will provide HR professionals and business leaders strategies to harmonise the workplace. Click here to book your free place.


Read 595 times Last modified on Tuesday, 27 February 2024 10:35


HR Champions provide first class HR and Employment Law support and advice to UK businesses; operationally and strategically. If you're an employer you'll potentially need some, if not all, of the services we offer.

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