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Ask an Expert: People Problems

How can HR staff train managers to handle common employee relations issues on their own?

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HR professionals at all levels would benefit from training supervisors to properly handle many employee-relations issues on their own.

A well-planned training program can assist new managers by helping them to create positive relationships with their staffs and may help safeguard the employer from potential legal issues. With appropriate training, new managers will grow and develop, creating a pipeline of future leaders for your organization.

As a first step, the HR team should hold a training class that allows new managers to practice their responses to common conflicts involving employees. HR should also consider inviting current managers for a refresher course.

Group training can help managers develop peer relationships. They may then be more inclined to provide support and guidance to one another when faced with employee challenges. In addition, HR professionals can encourage managers to further hone their skills with online training available from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), including SHRM’s new PMQ (People Manager Qualification) certification. 

Some HR professionals find it helpful to create a document that outlines situations when managers should contact HR. For example, if an employee alleges sexual harassment, HR practitioners will want to know immediately so they can begin an investigation. If an employee is considering filing a lawsuit, the manager should also know to first contact HR. 

Another way managers can learn and grow is by working with a mentor. HR can create mentoring programs to match new managers with those who have more experience. 

Conflict-resolution training can be a great help, as well. Managers who learn to defuse issues before they grow into larger problems will earn the respect of their team members. As their confidence grows, these managers will be less likely to escalate an issue unnecessarily by running to the HR team for help when a potential problem arises.

When managers arrive at HR’s door, HR professionals should act as a sounding board to help them work through the issues but also should encourage them to address common problems themselves. By resisting the impulse to step in, HR can help managers learn to handle future employee-relations situations on their own.

More-frequent, meaningful contact with their team members can help managers build employee trust. The managers also will be in a better position to recognize employee problems, such as stress and burnout, sooner. Building managers’ people skills will help them get the most out of their teams and, in turn, free up HR for other important work.  

Angela Simpson, SHRM-SCP, is an HR Knowledge Advisor for SHRM.


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