The HR Juggler

When conversations get tough…bring your values to work

Posted on: November 4, 2010

I have had several conversations this week already which have resulted in employees being served notice. Like all HR professionals, this is not a new experience, but it did get me thinking about some of the values I have which influence how these conversations take place.

It’s always personal

From a business perspective, it is rarely about the person themselves and never about their intrinsic value as a human being.  For us as HR, it is usually to do with how they are performing in their roles, whether that role should exist any longer in the organisation and a myriad of other external factors.

But for the individual it will almost always be a personal body blow; one that has the capacity to wound deeply and throw their lives into disarray.  Whilst the business decision around terminating an employment contract may be sound, we forget the personal impact of these actions at our peril.

Accept the unexpected

The one thing that cannot be prepared for, scripted or controlled is the employee’s reaction to the bad news.  From tears to anger to stony silence, the only certainty is that everyone is different and that no two people respond in the same way.  And, that given the circumstances of the tough conversation and the personal impact on the individual, they are entitled to react any way they choose and be treated with respect and empathy.

Do as you would be done by

The golden rule of all human behaviour, no less relevant here.  For me this is the key to any tough conversation, particularly one that ends somebody’s employment.  Explain clearly and consistently, get to the point quickly, listen compassionately and treat them humanely.  Because let’s face it, we never know whether one day we will be on the receiving end of one of those tough conversations and what goes around comes around.

Being in HR can be challenging at times and having tough conversations is something that no-one enjoys.  I do appreciate the fact though that I can at least influence how the message is delivered and do it with professionalism and integrity.

Bringing your values to work…that’s got to be a good thing!

7 Responses to "When conversations get tough…bring your values to work"

Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Alison. I agree with you 100%.Like you, my experience is that you can never predict someone’s reaction; even those you think you know well. So you need to be able to react in the moment and to lean on your own values.There is another unpredictable element in redundancy interviews. That is how the line manager delivering the news will ‘hold up’. On occasions, I have needed to provide emotional support to both manager and employee.HR people must never underestimate the drain that such activity can have on their own body and spirit. We need to be confident in our coping strategies.Kind regards, Glyn

Nicely done Alison, a sensitive subject well tackled. Bringing your values to work should be easy, and yet lots of folk struggle to do just that. It’s as if we’re expected to be one thing in the office and one thing elsewhere. Fail! I have a good friend who is a successful partner in a firm of surveyors. His name is Simon and he is….authentic. What you see in work is essentially what you see out of work. I admire Simon. He is bold, and he is proof (to me at least) that bringing your values to work is the right thing to do.You have reminded me of an article I wrote some time ago called We Do What We Say We Will. It ended “Can you imagine what we could achieve if we kept our hearts and minds with us at work instead of checking them in at security as we enter the workplace?”If you or anyone else is interested, the link is here. done on another lovely piece of work.

…coincidence? Here’s a great interview out just today with Shereen Qutob who is a good friend of mine. She is discussing values in the workplace. A movement is starting! 45 min interview worth investing in

Thanks for the comments both of you. Glyn, I totally agree about the emotional support that often needs to be given to managers, particularly those that have not often had the experience of having those sort of conversations. Its also true that on the few occasions when I have been the manager delivering the message to one of my own team, it is without question immeasurably harder than being the HR support. I’m sure you’re right that we need to acknowledge the drain of this type of activity on us as professionals and support and understand each other.Doug, I really like your previous blog about keeping our hearts and minds with us in the workplace. The podcast with Shereen is great and well worth a listen too.

Alison, great post! Seriously a sensitive and much-avoided topic, well done for taking it on!Especially working in HR; it is astounding how many HR folks I know that have decided to completely detach from their soul and feel that the only way to ‘operate’ is as a machine/zombie/drone – showing no emotion, compassion, remorse or any sign of human life!! Outside of work however they are ‘people’ again, with real lives and families and fears and challenges just like the people they had to deliver the tough news to. I am a huge believer in Karma and what goes around absolutely comes back around; I don’t think anyone ever signs up to be treated with no respect or dignity, so it’s important to remember that when having such tough conversations.Looks like a movement is starting! Let’s keep it up folks. Thanks for the support on the podcast 🙂

Thanks for your comments Shereen and totally agree with you re being the same person inside and outside of work

[…] values that there is, a true differentiator of people and a mark of authenticity. I wrote in a previous blog post about bringing your values to work and treating others as you would wish to be treated. Of course we often need to make commercial […]

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