This recorded session was presented live on May 18, 2023.
Being a new manager often comes with a steep learning curve, especially when you’ve transitioned from peer to boss. No one can become an expert in all areas of employment law overnight, but being aware of key management best practices is important for managers—new and seasoned.
Co-sponsored with our HR partner, Mineral, this session will give you a crash course on how to avoid common pitfalls and build productive teams. Then, we will focus on the legal requirements for employers, including wage and hour, leave, and harassment laws.
Presenter: Raymond Rokicki Jr., MBA/HRM PHR, SHRM-SCP | HR Advisor
Ray Rokicki, Jr. is an accomplished HR professional, instructor, and facilitator currently serving as an HR Advisor for Mineral. Prior to Mineral, Ray was the HR Business Partner for HMSHost overseeing operations at Newark, LaGuardia, JFK, and Islip Airports, and the Jersey Gardens Mall. Ray has held a variety of human resource, sales, and management roles in different industries throughout his career, including in the startup world.
Hey everyone. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining the New Manager Survival Guide and HR Essentials. Thanks so much for taking some time to join us today. I’m excited to welcome you to the training. I hope you’re as excited to go through this as I am. My name’s Ray, I’ve held a variety of HR roles, from HR coordinator to HR director. I’ve supported and partnered with or overseen organizations ranging from a hundred employees to 3,000 plus. I have experience in retail and in food services and in a variety of different roles in various organizations. So with that, let’s go ahead.
But before I jump in, I do want to do a couple of quick housekeeping items. First of all, for everybody who’s joining now or if you registered and you’re not going to be able to stay, we’ll email out a PDF of the slides and a recording of the webinar within about 24 hours or so. So there’s no need to take notes, you’re more than welcome to though if you’d like.
Secondly, I’ll be holding a poll during our webinar and we’re also going to offer a post webinar survey. I’d really appreciate it. It actually helps a lot if you participate in both of those. And throughout the webinar, you’re going to be able to ask questions, and I’ll hold a brief Q&A at the end. And then a couple of minutes when we get to the poll, I’m going to ask you to scroll down underneath the video player, you’ll see a questions tab and right in between that is where you’ll see the poll piece. That’s where you’re going to go in and view the poll.
I anticipate being able to end on the scheduled time, but as you know, in webinars such as this, we sometimes get some great questions during the Q&A portion. So as I said, if you’re on a tight timeline and you need to drop off, just be aware that that Q&A is going to be included in the recording.
So as you might be aware, being a new manager isn’t easy and the transition from peer to boss can be pretty challenging. It’s a juggling act that can involve effective team check-ins, navigating some clashing personalities, identifying and evaluating employee strengths, but also rewarding achievements. Needless to say, there’s a lot to learn. So today I’ll provide some best practices to help new managers settle into their roles, but also offer some tips on how to build a healthy productive team. One thing I’d like to share is that if you’re new in your role, congratulations on making the transition to manager. And if you’re the HR manager, this presentation is going to give you some great tips for coaching new managers within the company.
In the second section, we’ll focus on some HR essentials that you need to know in order to be a strong, confident and compliant manager. There are a lot of state and federal laws that can catch an unknowing manager off guard and the consequences of mishandling some situations can be severe. So I don’t want to make you nervous, but I do want to cover a few of those laws to be sure you’re aware of them ahead of time. We’ll review wage and hour, leaves, disability, and harassment laws, as well as some best practices for corrective action and termination.
Okay, so you’ve joined the management team at your company and you’re either an internal hire, a promotion, or you’re an external hire. And again, I’m going to say it one more time. Congratulations. So you’re a new manager. You’re tasked with supervising others in addition to accomplishing your own work. So that means your success is defined by how your team performs and their output, no longer just by your own performance. And if you were a sole contributor before, this might be a little bit of a gear shift for you. Your ability to succeed in this role is going to have a lot to do with the initial phases of your position, but how you gain acceptance from others as well as how you handle some of the bumps that you’re most definitely going to run into along the way when you’re starting out. Your approach here is key. So I’m just going to have us jump right in and I’m going to review several important steps and things to keep in mind as you strive to be successful as a new manager.
So your approach here when you’re becoming a manager is going to likely begin with how you became a manager in the organization, right? How you obtain the role that you’re in now. And I can share from my own experience, I started as a frontline salesperson, and now at this point in my career, I’ve been a manager for a good portion of it.
The learning curve for managing for some people is going to be a little bit steep depending on your existing team, turnover in your team, and the expectations for you as well as for your position. So I’ve provided some questions that you might want to ask yourself to better acquaint yourself with your role, and you can see them on the slide. So during this time, I find it especially helpful to focus and to remind yourself you were hired for the position, you were chosen out of a pool of applicants, or you might have been handpicked for the role. Keep that fact in mind and focus in on your strengths. Far too often, I see managers that think they have to be an expert in every task or every function of each position they’re responsible for overseeing. Honestly, that doesn’t define a good manager. Keep that in mind, but it often defines a good micromanager.
Focus on your strengths as a manager, but also as part of the team. As we move through the next few slides on the traits of a successful manager, I encourage you to think of your role in this way. Think of yourself as an orchestra conductor, because an orchestra conductor is responsible for guiding a team of experts, right? Highly trained musicians, in that case. And they have to guide the team through the complexities of an orchestral composition. They need to know when to ask for more from the woodwinds and less from percussion. And oftentimes it’s in the same moment, but the end goal that we end up with when it’s done well is a seamless performance, right? Of a challenging composition that produces what sounds like a unified and harmonious source of sound.
But the first question you have to ask yourself is do you think that the conductor’s an expert on each instrument in the orchestra? I can’t say definitively, but it’s likely that the answer is no. Are they aware of each instrument? Are they aware of each instrument’s range, its responsibility and its role on the team? Yes. Absolutely, that one goes without saying. But when you think of yourself as a conductor, managers have to bring together the varying personalities and the roles that make the entire team successful. And when it works, it comes out as an amazing thing, right? Much like a great conductor, great managers make the delicate balance of overseeing a team of individuals look easy. But the fact of the matter is, and I can assure you from my own personal experience that it isn’t. It takes a very special person to manage others, and you were selected for the role because of the abilities that you bring to the table.
Depending on how you came into the role, your strengths in your areas of focus are going to be different. For example, if you were hired from within the company, you were already part of the company’s team, and maybe even the exact team that you’re now leading. So as you consider your strengths for the position as somebody hired internally, remember that it’s likely that at least in part, you were hired because you have knowledge of the company, the department, and the products or the services. Those are your strengths. You’re already an expert when it comes to those elements. However, you might have less management experience, so that’s probably going to be your primary focus area. You want to develop your leadership skills, define yourself as the conductor, not needing to become an expert on each of the different instruments.
As you step up to the podium or to your new corner office or to your office, you’ll need to start focusing on big picture goals. What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses on your team? What’s the trajectory that the team is on? Right? Your past efforts were more likely focused on your specific roles and responsibilities. Sure, right? The fact of the matter is you were part of the team, you were driven towards the team’s success, but now you are the one leading the team. So with this shift, your workload has gone from task-focused, right? Individual contributor to big picture. And it’s important that you maintain that focus as we move forward.
And for those of you that were hired into the position externally, you’ve come into the role most likely with previous management experience, and that could be the very reason that you were hired. But your focus areas are learning about the company, the product or the service, and the individual team members that you’re now overseeing. You want to focus your time on learning from your team, and you want to allow yourself to be reverse-mentored so that you gain insight and awareness into how things currently operate. Then where you want them to head is going to make a lot more sense, right?
Utilize your team’s knowledge before you swoop in and make any big changes, right? What have they tried before? How did it work? Why are they using the current process? I can almost guarantee you that there are reasons for the way things are currently being done. Right or wrong, good or bad, but swooping in and making a knee-jerk change without taking any form of temperature check or pulse check with your team is likely to upset the team way more than it is to do any good, right? Ask questions, seek to understand the reasons behind the potential challenges you see. And it’s much easier to be collaborative than it is to try to repair relationships, especially when they’re relationships that are damaged before you even had the chance to create them.
Plus, you need your team onboard in order to make a change. And when we’re talking change, we’re talking a change of any size, right? Buy-in ahead of large changes is really important. And for those, I recommend team meetings to discuss the topic that’s up for change and gain the team member’s insights. Remember, right now, they’re the experts at what they’re doing. And as a best practice, I recommend whenever possible, proposing several variations of a change to the team and allow them to select the best path forward from the proposals. This is going to help garner respect, but also ensure engagement in the changes that are to come.
Now, one of the most crucial components of making the move to management is the transition. And it’s the transition from peer to leader. So I’d like to spend a few minutes on this in particular. And the transition’s vital to the success of your team, but I’m going to be honest. In total transparency, this can be one of the biggest sticking points for some people, especially for those that move up internally, because there’s a good chance you likely had some close relationships with employees that you’re now tasked with managing.
So I’m going to give a couple of tips for a smooth transition, and I’m going to elaborate on a few of the ones that you see listed on the slide. You want to evaluate personal relationships, realize that your previous personal relationships with coworkers are going to need to be moved to a different space because you’re no longer a peer. You are now the person who assigns work, who analyzes productivity, who provides the performance appraisals. Truth be told, I’ve seen many a new manager shift their management style in their first 18 months or so of managing. A lot of new managers often begin their management style as part of the team, right? Or they try to maintain their friendships with the team members.
Now, I wanted this to come across very clearly. I’m not suggesting that a manager shouldn’t be friendly with team members, but there is a difference between being friendly and being their friend, right? You want to think about the social relationship in that aspect, right? One of the pieces that can come into play is that that can compromise your ability to be the best manager that you can be. Think of it like this, right? Once you’re entwined in a social relationship, how are you going to feel during the next difficult conversation with the employee who’s also a close friend of yours, right? An already difficult conversation might be more challenging with a close friend, in part, because you’re afraid of losing that social time, right?
You can also end up losing objectivity in the social relationship. So take some fair warning, right? You don’t necessarily have to end the friendship, but you really want to set some clear boundaries ahead of time as a new manager. And keep in mind that those relationships with your former peers, they’re going to change and you’re going to need to be mindful of that fact, because now you’re going to be the one that’s talking to them about performance. You want to be mindful of maintaining your objectivity.
Another tip, always maintain professionalism and respect for others at all times, even in a crisis. Maintain your professionalism and remember, your employees, your team, they’re looking at you to lead. I’d also strongly encourage you to eliminate water cooler talk or break room gossip or venting sessions with employees. I will say that, as any manager, you may find yourself on occasion that you need to vent. And in those situations, the best advice I can give is to always remember to vent up. Partner with your manager in situations where there’s something you need to share. Venting down, engaging in gossip, partaking in that water cooler talk, that’s going to end up coming across as highly unprofessional. Because it is, right? And if an employee hears you talking about another employee either on your team or on another team, it’s likely that they’ll believe you’re doing the same about them when they’re not within earshot.
And lastly, be fair, be honest, and be consistent. Keep your feelings and your decisions neutral and objective. Don’t allow previous work or friendships with your former peers to influence your new managerial responsibilities.
Now, we’ve touched on building a relationship a bit, but I want to discuss some additional tips. And in this next section we’re going to focus on three factors for building a successful manager-employee relationship. Trust, communication, and nurturing those relationships. Now, I want you to take just a moment and think back to a great manager that you’ve had in the past. Maybe you’re picturing your current manager, maybe you’re picturing a manager from many moons ago. The first question is, did you trust that person? My hunch is going to be that the answer is yes. And I’d be willing to bet that even when you were tentative about a decision they made or something that they asked you to do, you trusted them. But why did you trust that person, right? And why is trust so important?
The next thing that I would tell you to think about is a poor manager that you had in the past, right? Because sometimes we don’t always learn what to do from people. Sometimes we learn what not to do. And that bad manager, there may have been levels of distrust. And when people distrust one another, they keep themselves at a distance. They don’t confide in one another, they assume that people are being dishonest. They don’t believe what they hear, they will withhold information. Sometimes it’s crucial information. And team cohesion disintegrates because people aren’t sharing and they’re not collaborating. Fortunately, there are a number of things managers can do to build trust. There are several trust-building factors on this slide, and many of them are self-explanatory. But I do want to discuss coaching, and I want to go into that for just a couple of minutes.
Studies have shown that a coaching style of management can create greater employee engagement and commitment. It can improve performance, and it can actually accelerate talent development. When employees are coached, they feel supported and they feel encouraged by their manager. And this is because coaching doesn’t simply teach an employee how to do a task or how to follow a procedure. Coaching is individual-focused. It’s aimed at building up the individual employee. When employees are coached, they feel supported and they feel encouraged by their manager, right? Coaching builds up employees by helping them overcome their weaknesses and build on their strengths. It’s an investment in the employee’s present and future success. But most importantly, managers who coach their employees show that they trust them. And truly, there’s no better way to earn someone’s trust by showing them that trust, right? “So what does a coaching management style look like,” is usually the next question that comes up.
Well, just as a sports coach would, a manager provides direction by clearly articulating goals in each employee’s role on the team, improve performance by creating a learning environment and providing feedback, but also opening up new possibilities by empowering an employee’s decision making. A coaching mentality utilizes the mindset that your employees have the solution. And your role is to facilitate their finding it. That is another area where you can show trust. But with trust comes respect. And as with trust, there isn’t one thing that you can do as a manager to earn respect from your team. There’s no shortcuts for this one, right? Rather, it’s the way that you interact and engage with your team over time that matters. It’s way easier to identify how respect is lost than by how it’s earned, right? It’s easily lost by those who rule by fear or by those who aim to please team members instead of putting the team and the company’s best interests first.
Some ways to earn respect from your employees are to show that you trust them, right? Help them improve their knowledge, their skills, their abilities, right? Those KSAs. Empower their decisions by giving them choices when you can and ask for their feedback, right? People like being heard and feeling that they have a say in how things are done. The best way to earn respect from your team, really, it starts with respecting others, with establishing trustworthiness, with showing and maintaining credibility. And one of the sometimes most difficult ones is a healthy dose of humility.
Now, the next piece that comes in is communication. And a part of healthy workplace communication is first understanding how you and your employees give and receive communication so that you can establish a system that works for everybody involved. And I want to cover a few communication missteps that I see managers, both new and seasoned, inadvertently make.
First is assuming that employees know what you want. Employees are going to do what they think is best in order to accomplish their goal. Without your guidance, direction and clarification, they’re going to go for it on their own. And studies have shown that a good portion of performance problems exist because the employee doesn’t know what they’re doing is wrong. The second is not telling an employee how they’re doing. No news is not good news. It’s simply no news in the workplace, right? Employees really need to know how they’re doing, and some employees need to know more than others. Think about yourself. I don’t know you, but I think you probably like to know how you’re doing and whether you’re meeting your boss’s expectations. This applies to both positive and corrective feedback. Employees want to know exactly where they stand. The third is not telling employees anything at all.
To maximize talent and engagement, think of employees as partners in the communication piece, right? Share information about the organization, about the team goals, about objectives, but also about results and challenges that you’re running into as a team. While there are certainly times for confidentiality and discretion, keeping this organizational and team information to yourself only hampers potential, because it restricts what’s essentially the blood flow of the organization, it cuts it off to the rest of the organization.
Another piece, another key to improving communication is to make sure that your various meetings are effective and that they serve a proper purpose. And I’ve listed a few on the slide that we’re on now of the different meeting types that you want to kind of keep on your radar.
Individual check-ins are helpful, and the frequency and the nature of this is going to change based on the employee. Some are going to want a more formal check-in while others are fine with casual check-ins only when they need it. And if you’re unaware of what your employee needs, just talk to them, right? Just ask them. In my experience, team meetings are best, at least biweekly. It depends, though, on the nature of your work. However, meeting schedules are going to look different at each work, right? And even among teams within the same organization. It might be a formal team meeting complete with an agenda. It might be a quick spot check to see how everyone is doing. I’ve seen a housekeeping team in the past that held a 10-minute morning check-in every day to be certain the entire team knew the day’s workload. Then they would split into working teams for the day and they’d cover a brief safety message relevant to that day’s work. The team meetings are going to likely relate directly to what your team is working on and your expectations for the team.
In my opinion, it’s very difficult, especially as a new manager to over-communicate. So when in doubt, set up a meeting, and my guess is that you’re going to be surprised by the great conversations and ideas that come from it. A planning meeting is a little bit more formal than the check-in meeting, right? And it’s typically related to a current project, the action item that you’re working on, a project timeline or some revised goals, right? Lastly is a meeting to address issues when they arise. That meeting could be called because of a customer complaint, team inefficiency, really any area of concern. Alternatively, it might be the result from performance that happened that was below your expectations, in which case you’re probably going to want to do a one-on-one meeting. My best advice for you here is address your concerns early and be clear on your expectations. No matter the type of the meeting, be sure to clearly set the expectations with your team. You’ll hold yourself and your employees accountable to those expectations, and you can measure the success or the failure of the objectives during the next meeting. Be certain that everyone is clear on the goals, the time commitment that’s going to be involved, and their roles and responsibility for those meetings.
And the final topic that I want to get into related to building a strong manager and employee relationship is facilitating the coworker relationships. Office relationships can take time to grow and develop, and they certainly, they cannot be forced, right? But strong working relationships are a key component to a healthy team and workplace. Having a close friend at work, believe it or not, is so important according to Gallup that they’ve included it as one of the top 12 most important workplace engagement traits. And as a manager, you’re going to nurture those relationships by holding those team meetings, by respecting your team members, by building trust among them, and by empowering the team involvement. Now, it’s important to remember that not all employees are going to be best friends, right? And as a manager, one of the first steps is being willing to recognize that conflict exists, but followed closely by needing to transition into a mediator role.
And now we don’t have cameras on, but I’m sure that there are some of you who might’ve just laughed, who might’ve rolled your eyes or even sighed at the thought of handling workplace drama. But keep in mind, part of your role as a manager is creating and maintaining a harmonious team. But in all seriousness, I could probably spend an entire presentation on conflict management, but as we all know, that isn’t our focus today. But if you’re faced with such a situation, meet individually first, right? With the people that are involved, support employees to handle the situation on their own, and then bring the parties together if you need to for a group meeting depending on what it is from a situation standpoint that we’re dealing with. But I keep in mind employees are always free to disagree. And again, not all employees are going to be best friends, but the emphasis should be on maintaining respect and professionalism in all interactions. And this is really going to start with you.
Now, I want to shift gears a little bit, and I want to chat about company culture. Now, if this feels like a popular buzzword to you, please know that a company’s culture not only exists, but it is a very important part of the company. It’s important to maintain a consistent company culture. But before you maintain a culture, you have to understand what culture currently exists. So the first place to start is to ask the question, “What is company culture?” Think of it like the personality of the company, right? The environment in which employees work. It includes a variety of elements such as the company policies, right? Your internal practices, the work environment, the company mission, the values, the ethics, the expectations, how employees relate to one another. All of that fits into culture. And a company culture is ingrained in the company’s DNA. It’s there before you or any other employee arrived and existed long before any of you got there, right? Each employee that is hired is thought to be a good match for the existing culture and to bring strength to the company’s vision and goals.
So your role as the manager is to maintain, or in some cases, to improve the company culture. But in order to do so, you have to fully understand it. And that involves assessing the current culture. Take a look around, right? How do employees interact with one another on a team and between the company teams? Are employees engaged in their jobs? Do they like their jobs? The answers to those questions are going to help you define the company’s culture, but they’re also going to help you to learn more about your employees.
A well understood and a unified company culture is going to seem more fair to both current and new employees. But do your homework first, right? Read and understand the company handbook and policies. As a manager, your employees are going to expect you to be an expert or at least knowledgeable on the policies. And then I recommend meeting with HR and other department managers to understand how those policies are applied and enforced. Let’s say, for example, that the company handbook policy states that the appearance standards are professional, but that’s it, right? It doesn’t further define the term. The first question is, what does professional mean to the company? Then the next question is, what does it mean to your department? And it’s very likely that that’s going to look different in the department that’s frontline direct customer-facing versus a back-of-house department. And that’s okay. But those differences, and the way that you apply them for your team should be consistent. They should be business-related, and they should be justifiable.
And for the final topic in this first section of the presentation, I want to talk about setting your employees up for success. And I want to start off with a great leadership quote from Richard Teerlink. And he’s the former chairman and CEO of Harley Davidson. And as you can see on the slide, what he says is, “As a leader, your principal job is to create an operating environment where others can do great things.” And I do want to call out the fact that I’ve used the terms manager and leader interchangeably throughout this presentation. The reality is that they’re two very different things. And being a manager does not automatically equal leadership. As a manager, you’re likely responsible for planning and budgeting, for organizing the department, and ensuring proper staffing, but also for solving problems when they arise. Those are all management tasks. And they’re just part of your responsibilities now. But I believe that the best managers can accomplish those tasks while also being great leaders. The best leaders? They empower others on the team to lead as well.
And I want to be honest, between the managerial tasks and the leadership of the coaching role, there’s a lot to do. And there’s only so many hours that we all have in the day. So you need to empower other leaders on your team to help assist you. And as we turn to setting your employees up for success, I do want to offer this definition for your own success as a manager. Your most important job is to make sure that your employees are successful in performing well. So what if this is how your performance was reviewed? What if you were reviewed by who among your team moved up?
As an HR professional, this is how I prefer to gauge a manager’s success. But I want to be crystal clear here. I’m not in the business of ushering employees out the door to bigger and better roles elsewhere, right? But in most positions and on most teams, there really is a lot of room for growth. Now, as a manager, you’re tasked with accomplishing goals at both the team and the individual levels. At the team level, it’s important to begin by identifying strengths and weaknesses. And until you have a firm grasp on those as well as areas for growth, it’s very possible that your team goals, they might be misguided or misaligned. And on the topic of team goals, I strongly recommend involving the team in goal setting. Pose it to the team this way, “We need to get from point A, which is where we are now to point B. But how we get there is up to us as a team.”
As a manager, you’ve defined point B. And you’re certainly going to oversee the process, but let your team define the steps in between. On an individual level, there are likely company and job-related goals, right? What does each employee have to accomplish to achieve the team goal? What specific tasks is each employee accountable for? You’ll also want to be aware of each individual’s career goals. And remember that those aren’t going to look the same for everybody. Some employees may want to move up on the team, others may want to move up within the company. And another employee’s goals may relate just to being in their current position. Again, part of your role as a manager is to set employees up for success, but you’ll never achieve that if you aren’t aware of an employee’s personal goals.
And listen, I don’t think I can stress this part enough. Talk to your employees. Find out what motivates them. Keep their goals in mind as you work to craft your team goals. As a new manager, we’re talking about individuals, I recommend meeting with each employee to set goals within the first 30 to 60 days. This is going to help you get to know each employee and be better acquainted with their role on the team. But it’s also going to ensure clear communication of your expectations.
When you’re setting goals, I’m a fan of SMART goals, SMART’s an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Your organization may have a different acronym or tool that they use, but no matter what, the goals should be written to clearly define what the employee’s going to do. And developing sound goals is critical to managing your own and your employees’ performance expectations. SMART goals should also be used at the team level, especially when it’s related to project planning. Creating specific tangible action items, that’s an important element of successful goal setting. And now that we have the big goal in place, how are we going to achieve it, right? If an employee wants to better their Excel capabilities, for an example, right? An action item might be watching a new Excel training video and then testing out the skills each week.
But lastly, follow up after the initial goal setting is done, right? That follow up piece is going to be crucial. Depending on the magnitude of the goal and the timeframe for completion, follow up could take place weekly, monthly, could be quarterly, right? Don’t forget that an important part of follow-up is celebrating the success. Take time to celebrate milestones as they’re achieved with events or with tokens of appreciation that are appropriate to the scope of success. And they don’t have to cost a lot either, right? A team lunch, morning coffee and donuts, a certificate, a public recognition, all of those things goes a very long way.
One trick I’ve learned over the years is to plan the follow-ups. Don’t expect them to magically happen. Make sure that you have them as a reminder in your Outlook or whatever program your company uses, because as a new manager or even as an experienced one, it’s easy to become sidetracked or distracted by an issue. And then before you know it, a good deal of time has gone by and you’ve missed a check-in that you potentially told the employee you were going to do.
And now I want to shift gears again, and I want to get into performance management, because I alluded to that a little bit ago. This is a big topic to cover on one slide. So I just want to give you an overview of the primary components of successful performance management. And we’re going to discuss corrective action, which is the more negative side of performance management in the next section of the presentation.
I like to think of performance management on a spectrum. From small gestures such as employee appreciation to the large ones, right? The annual evaluation. Employee appreciation and feedback are true motivators for a lot of people. And if you listen closely to your employees, you’re going to be able to decipher what really motivates them. Employee appreciation can come in many forms. From a genuine thank you note, public thank you, to a small gift, right? A gift to your favorite coffee place, or to your employee’s favorite coffee place, or a lunch card to their favorite spot. And we’ve already discussed the coaching approach to management and how useful it can be to promote employee engagement, improve performance. But I want to take a moment to compare and contrast coaching and discipline. Coaching’s a more proactive approach to discipline as it involves active involvement from both parties to address the challenges before unwanted conduct or policy violations occur.
Unlike discipline, coaching is not a top-down approach. It’s a collaborative one. Discipline, though, is reactionary in nature, typically. And it’s important to have a good understanding of your company’s disciplinary policies. Does the company use a firm progressive, discipline step process, right? Or is discipline left more to your discretion as a manager?
The last thing I want to bring up is the annual performance evaluation. And I strongly recommend meeting with employees at least annually to discuss their performance and their individual goals. Think of the process though as twofold. One part’s the evaluation and one part’s the communication. If you do it right, this is a powerful tool for both you and the employee. And this process though is going to look different at every company. So it’s important to know what the current process is where you are, and then adjust according to yours and your employees preferences.
I will put my own personal caveat in for the annual evaluation. Nobody should walk into that meeting waiting for the big reveal to discover how their manager feels about their performance and how it’s been all year. Check-ins and touch bases are key to making sure that nobody’s surprised by anything said in that annual review. My personal rule that I’d like to keep in mind is, aside from a cash bonus or an award for the company, nobody likes surprises at work.
And now let’s shift gears completely and get into the part two that I told you about, which is the HR essentials. And you might be wondering why we’re going to include a section on HR Essentials in a New Manager Survival Guide. Well, it’s very important that all managers have a sense of what I sometimes call the HR buzzwords. So that you understand them. So you know the terms and the regulations well enough to know when to dig a little deeper in the company handbook or when to raise your hand and ask for help and take partnership with HR. Now, if you’re already the one responsible for the organization’s HR functions, this is going to be a nice review and it’s probably going to provide you with several best practices.
So to tee off the second half, I want to jump into the poll that I talked about before, and I’m going to tell you where it is again, just so you can find it. As you can see there, the poll is located below the video to the right of the Q&A. And the questions, as you can see, as a new manager to managing or as a coach for new managers, the HR topic that you feel the least confident in is which one? We’ll take about 10 seconds or so. Give everybody a chance to click in there. And I know that sometimes it’s tough to choose just one in a scenario such as this, but pick the one that you really feel like you’ve got the least confidence in, and we’ll give it about five more seconds.
All right, so it looks like corrective action kind of came in there as the winner or as the one that had the most, I should say. I don’t know if you really want to call it a win in a poll like this. But with that said, let me take us through all of the different pieces that are listed on there.
So I want to start off with wage and hour regulations. These are often overlooked because they’re assumed to be obvious or they’re assumed to be easy, but it’s sometimes the simple HR topics that trip up the best managers. And there’s sometimes a big difference between thinking we know and actually knowing. Recently, I worked with an experienced manager who was using comp time, right? And unless you work for a state or government agency, comp time’s not allowed. A non-exempt employee has to be paid for all the hours worked in the work week. Rolling the time or comping the time to a later week, or the employee’s PTO bank is not allowed. But it was surprising, and even this long-term manager was not fully aware of the requirement. That takes us into the FLSA and what the requirements are.
Under the FLSA, or the Fair Labor Standards Act, there are two paid classifications, non-exempt and exempt. And all employees need to be classified as one or the other. A non-exempt employee is typically paid hourly. They’re entitled to overtime, and they’re entitled to minimum wage, which, at the federal level, is currently $7.25. However, know where you’re operating, because a lot of states and a lot of local municipalities have additional minimum wage requirements. Under federal guidelines, overtime has to be paid for all the hours worked in excess of 40 in the company’s seven-day work week. Some states though, such as California in particular, they have additional overtime requirements that you’re also going to need to be aware of if you operate there. A position can be exempt from overtime regulations under both state and federal law, but there’s actually very strict guidelines for that.
And in order to be classified as exempt, a position has to pass three federal tests. First, it has to be paid on a salary basis, right? A predetermined amount that doesn’t fluctuate based on the quantity or the quality of hours worked.
Second, the pay has to meet a minimum salary threshold. That salary threshold is currently $684 per week under federal law. As I said before, for minimum wage though, take note of where you’re operating, because several states have higher minimum salary thresholds than federal. Alaska, California, Maine, New York, those are all examples that jump right to mind that have the higher minimum salary thresholds.
And the third and the most complicated test is that the position has to meet very specific duties and requirements for a particular exemption. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your feelings on it, we don’t have time to go into the details on the various exemptions today, but we’re here to provide recommendations for the decision making, and we have ample resources available to assist with that, including a Federal FLSA guide that even includes a useful job duty flowchart.
And I want to note lastly that simply being paid a salary doesn’t mean that the employees properly classified it as exempt and ineligible for OT. Each position has to be carefully reviewed to ensure compliance with the federal FLSA and any state guidelines for proper classification. Wrongly classifying a position as exempt can result in costly wage and hour claims as there’s likely liability for unpaid OT and other wage and hour concerns.
Now, I want to get a little bit or stay on this for a little bit longer with wage and hour and some other considerations that come into play. It’s very important as a manager that you’re well aware of what constitutes time work for a non-exempt employee. Essentially, if the company’s requiring or benefiting from the time, the time has to be paid. We’re talking all prep time prior to the office opening, travel time related to work, if they have to run a work errand or they have to commute to another location for a workday meeting, time when they’re required to be at work, at a meeting, or at a training. And basically any time spent work on behalf of the employer.
We get a lot of questions about how to handle a situation when an employee works unauthorized time, whether it’s clocking in early, working at home, working from the library as I’ve dealt with, but remember all of the time worked by a non-exempt employee has to be paid. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hold them accountable. You can certainly consider disciplining an employee who fails to comply with your policies on timekeeping, on working their scheduled hours on OT, or working off the clock.
And the last thing I want to talk about is meal and rest periods. There are no federal regulations that require an employee be provided rest or a meal period. Many states though, mandate that employees are provided with both of them depending on the duration of their shift. So as I said before, you’re going to want to pay attention to where you’re operating. And even if a state doesn’t mandate meal arrest periods, a company might elect to provide and schedule them. Meal and rest periods, if they are applicable, or if they’re preferred by the company, that’s one of the things that you want to put in the handbook. And as a new manager, that’s one of the places you’re going to want to look for the details first.
And now I want to shift gears again away from the FLSA and into leaves. The purpose of this is that you’re aware of the terms in the event that an employee submits a request to you or brings up some of these topics in conversation. For those of you that are at an organization with 50 or more employees, the Federal Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA is going to apply. Now, I’m not going to provide detailed information for how to designate the leave, but it’s important that you’re aware of a few buzzwords in this scenario.
The FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and their family responsibilities by allowing eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. As a manager, it’s important to note that when an employee requests leave, they don’t have to expressly assert FMLA rights. They don’t even have to mention FMLA. So if an employee asks for time off for a surgery, to care for a sick family member, mentions pregnancy or a new baby, be aware that you’re likely in FMLA territory. It’s important to be aware of an employee’s rights and know when you should get in touch with HR or an HR professional for more support. There’s also various state-specific leaves. And you need to be aware of those and depending on your company’s size and location, the list can be pretty robust, right?
Some examples of state-required leaves are jury duty, being called as a witness, victims of domestic violence, leave for children’s school needs, emergency responder leave, voting leave, and the list goes on and on, right? Most, but not all of the leaves I mentioned are unpaid and provide job-protected leave to an eligible employee. You’re not expected to be a leave expert. Let me leave that out there, right? But remember that as a manager working closely with employees, you are likely the one they’re going to turn to first with questions regarding their rights or for scheduling requests. So be aware of what leaves your employees are entitled to so that you know how to respond and when to turn to HR for additional support.
One of the most powerful pieces of advice I can give is when an employee comes to you and you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” But you have to follow that up and say, “But we can find out together.” And then the next time it happens, not only are you going to know, but you’ll have an employee on the team who realizes you’re serious about being a partner and not just being a manager.
And now I want to talk about disability for a little bit. And in particular, I want to talk about the Americans with Disabilities Act, often referred to as the ADA. We receive questions pretty much daily on an employee’s disability or request for job modifications and requests related to leave under ADA. So I do want to be certain that you’re familiar with the laws governing this area of employment so that you feel confident at least when you’re faced with a request.
A little bit of backstory on the ADA, it became a law in 1990. It’s been amended since then and it’s been expanded, but it’s a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment. The employment section of the ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees. But keep in mind, I want you to be aware, several states have extended those protections with state laws as well, and the employee threshold in several states is well below 15, right? In short, those laws require that employers protect employees from disability discrimination in the workplace so that qualified employees with disabilities are afforded the same employment opportunities and the same rights afforded to employees without disabilities. The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation to an otherwise qualified applicant or employee, and a reasonable accommodation is a workplace change or modification that accommodates an individual with a disability without causing an undue hardship to the employer.
A reasonable accommodation can include a temporary leave of absence, a modified work schedule, changing the start or end times of a shift, or allowing for time off for medical appointments, modification, or purchase of equipment, think of a standing desk for an employee with back injury, or changing a workplace policy that prohibits food at the employee’s desk, if you have an individual with diabetes, for instance. A reasonable accommodation does not include removing essential job functions though. It doesn’t include creating new jobs or providing personal need items such as eyeglasses or mobility aids. But I do want to pause here for a minute. And I want to let you know that if you’re in a position where an employee has asked you for a workplace modification, that would be the time to contact your HR professional. We get a lot of questions about the definition of an undue hardship, and many employers are quick to say the workplace accommodation that’s been requested is undue, right?
However, an undue hardship requires an individual analysis for each situation. And whether something was indeed an undue hardship could be challenged in court. Partnering with your HR professional is key because if you grant an accommodation that no one else knows about and isn’t documented, it can create challenging situations when you get promoted or if you move to a different department.
So the next question that oftentimes comes up is, what’s a disability under the ADA? Well, the Federal ADA guidelines define a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. And it’s not mandatory that the disability is related to the job. And the definition of major life activity is very broad. It includes eating, breathing, sleeping, walking, talking, and much more. Like I said, it’s a broad definition. Put simply though, a disability impedes an individual from performing activities that an average person in the general population can perform with little or no difficulty.
Now, on this slide, I’ve included some HR-approved language for you. And you’ll often find this unemployment offers or job descriptions to confirm that an individual is able to complete the essential job functions with or without that reasonable accommodation when they accept the position. It’s not permissible to ask disability-related questions before an offer of employment’s been made. And employers should really refrain from sensitive questions related to an employee’s physical or mental impairment throughout their employment. Now, as a manager, you’re not responsible, nor are you expected to be aware of an employee’s need for an accommodation where it might not otherwise be obvious. If someone has a wheelchair and they ask for the desks to be raised so it could fit under, that’s an obvious accommodation, right? The burden though, is on the employee to request an accommodation, and then your responsibility is to engage in the interactive process with them.
The interactive process is where you begin to assess the request. Keep in mind, much like with FMLA, an employee need not expressly use the words ADA or accommodation in a request. So therefore, any time an employee indicates that they’re having a problem and the problems related to a medical condition, you should consider whether the employee’s making a request for accommodation under the ADA. For example, if an employee tells you, “I’m having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing or because of a new medication I’m on,” the employee is, at that point, requesting a reasonable accommodation.
Now, I realize I just dropped the words interactive process, and that’s a critical part of the ADA. But it sounds way scarier than it is. It’s just a process to engage the employee in communication regarding the details of their disability as it impacts the position, what the barriers are, and what sorts of reasonable accommodations might help overcome those barriers. If you have our service, we have guides to assist you with that process.
The last thing I’m going to cover, though, in this portion is harassment. Harassment is also a topic that you should be aware of as a manager. As you hold some very important responsibilities in regards to harassment, which is an unlawful conduct. In short, to define harassment, it’s unwelcome physical or verbal behavior that’s based on an employee’s protected class such as race, color, religion, sex, age, or disability, or it’s sexual in nature. This offensive conduct may include, but it certainly is not limited to, offensive jokes, name-calling, intimidation, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, or interference with work performance. Harassment becomes unlawful where enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Petty insults, annoyances, isolated incidents, unless they’re extremely serious, they’re typically not going to rise to the level of unlawful. But they’re nonetheless likely unwanted in the workplace, and they may violate your policy, right? Such as if you have an anti-bullying policy.
Prevention is really the best tool to avoid harassment in the workplace. And as a manager, you’ve got a large role in creating a culture that doesn’t allow harassment to occur. The culture that you’re going to create has to include in an environment in which employees feel free to raise concerns, but they’re also confident that those concerns are going to be addressed.
So people often say, “What are some of the things I could do if I get a complaint?”
Well, here are some tips for handling a harassment complaint. But above all, please know, and please remember that once you receive a complaint or you become aware of the conduct, prompt action is your immediate responsibility. It’s also important you review your company’s anti-harassment policies to ensure that you follow the appropriate internal steps that you have.
Much like we discussed in the section on ADA, an employee can complain without using the term harassment. Your job as a supervisor is to have a heightened awareness for conduct that may constitute harassment and take swift action, right? Complaints can come in various different forms. It could be a verbal complaint, it could be a text message, it could be a written complaint, it could be an email. The one thing I want to call out though is take every complaint seriously. Contact your HR team. And if you find yourself in this situation, assure the employee that complaints of this nature are taken very seriously. And don’t promise confidentiality though. While you have to be discreet with the complaint, in order to share the information with HR and to conduct an investigation, you can’t guarantee confidentiality. Remind the employee, though, that the company has a zero-tolerance policy or zero-tolerance plan in place for harassing conduct and zero-tolerance for retaliation for making such a complaint or for participating in the investigation.
Now, I want to shift gears one more time because we talked a little bit earlier about performance management. And one component of that’s corrective action, the process that’s taken to eliminate undesirable actions and performance by your employees if they arise. I’d first like to say that prevention is fundamental here as well. The earlier you act, when you notice an undesirable action or performance that’s below expectations, the better it’s going to be for everybody that’s involved.
When we get into progressive discipline, it looks different at each organization, right? A firm step-discipline policy in most cases is something I don’t recommend outlining in the handbook. Although it’s great to have a solid internal process that you’re consistently following, we don’t want to give employees the impression that they can only be terminated after going through all three or all five or all seven disciplinary steps. And as you can see on the slide, progressive discipline can take the form of verbal counseling, written warning, suspension, performance improvement plans, or PIPs, final warnings or termination, or any combination of those actions at the company’s discretion.
Think of it this way. I’m going to guess that you’d handle different conduct differently when it comes to discipline. For example, I suspect that you would discipline an employee who’s tardy much differently than one who steals. And that’s one of the reasons that I prefer corrective action plan that doesn’t inadvertently promise employees a step-discipline process. Most companies are going to have a preferred sequence of disciplinary events. So be certain to review the company handbook and your internal company practices so that you’re aware of those and you remain consistent with them.
So we’ve come to the end almost of the presentation, right? And as you can see on the slide, to the end of employment. And it might seem strange that we’re talking about termination as part of creating a great team. But the reality is that sometimes part of creating a great team is having team members that are engaged, that are performing well, and that are working on behalf of the team’s goals. So after you’ve tried corrective actions of various different sorts and sizes, there are unfortunate times when involuntary termination or when discharge is appropriate. And I want to provide you with a few tips for handling terms in the right way.
Before I dive in on the next slide though, I do want to offer you this piece. Employees should be treated with respect prior to, during, and after termination. Many post-employment issues, such as claims of wrongful termination, are created because an employee receives unfair treatment. Now, if we’ve gotten to the point of term, as we prepare for it, I’m assuming that you’ve already attempted various forms of progressive discipline, you’ve documented all your actions. You want to be cognizant of discrimination before taking any action. Remember, employment actions, including termination, have to be made without regard to an employee’s membership in a protected class.
It’s also imperative to remember the burden of proof is on you as the employer to document the legitimate job-related reasons for the termination. And so there’s some questions that you want to ask that you should also answer before you make the decision. Did the company follow its own policy? Are we consistent in the decision to terminate for those actions? Was the policy violation or repeated under performance the basis of the termination? Was the employee given a heads-up or prized the situation ahead of time and given adequate time to correct the behavior?
Answering yes to those questions reduces the risks associated with the termination. But it’s also important to be aware, many states have final paycheck regulations including timeframes for the paycheck delivery. Some states even require issuing the final pay to an employee on the day of the termination. So in those states in particular, termination takes some planning and coordinating between HR and payroll ahead of the decision and certainly before you meet with the employee.
And lastly, many states also have required separation notices that have to be provided at, or in some cases, very closer within a specific timeline of the termination. Now, if you’re getting to the point of termination and you’re getting into the meeting, you want to get into, and you want to think about the conversation, right? The nice thing about termination, if I even use that expression if there’s anything nice about it, is that if progressive discipline has been properly observed, the final meeting should not come as a surprise to the employee. You want to be mindful and sensitive to the time of day, even to the day of the week if it’s possible, and remember, the employee’s going to need to potentially return to their workspace and collect their belongings. Avoid conducting these meetings alone. Instead, invite HR or another manager to join you.
That person is going to witness and document the meeting and the conversation. During the meeting, identify the unacceptable behavior, the policy violation, the underperformance, review past warnings that were given, advise the employee that because of the conduct, your continued poor performance, the relationship is going to be ended at this point. It’s really important that you be compassionate, but not apologetic. If the employee argues the decision, makes continual requests for reconsideration, compassionately but firmly tell them, “The decision is final,” right? Stick to your factual message as the termination is not up for debate. Recap the reasons for the term, I recommend doing it once, and if you’re in doubt, politely end the conversation. Ultimately though, employees should be treated with respect prior to, during, and after termination. Truthfully, a lot of the situations we end up with, like wrongful termination, we end up with lawsuits like that because an employee received unfair treatment.
Be sure to collect the employee’s company property such as keys, key cards, badges, and you also want to make sure that any access to your systems is turned off. Ensure that the final paycheck is delivered in that timely manner that we talked about if it wasn’t issued as part of that final termination meeting and review and finalize your documents for the employee’s personnel file, make sure that everything’s in order.
Lastly, you need to deliver the news to your team. Be as transparent as is appropriate, considering the circumstances. But you don’t want to share the terminated employee’s confidential details, right? Respect the terminated employee’s right to privacy, but don’t think that you have to lie, right? Keep in mind, a lack of information is oftentimes going to be unsettling to employees and it’s likely to upset the workplace. Think about it this way. How have you felt when a coworker just disappeared one day and you were left wondering, “Did they quit? Were they fired?” When there’s a lack of communication, rumors abound. Communicate with employees as quickly as possible after the term and keep the information factual and simple.
Remember though, no matter how you do it, all terminations come with risk. I recommend to try to make the experience and process as seamless as possible for everyone involved. And it’s always good to remember that terminated employees are going to speak to others about the org. They’re going to brand your company image out in the community. So doing all you can to make your last interaction and your final impression as positive as possible is going to be end up being really important.
So I know I’m ending the presentation on terminations, and that’s probably not the most positive or uplifting topic, but just remember that it’s only one small part of managing. And hopefully for you, it’s going to be a very small part. And we covered a lot of information today and I hope you enjoyed the content. I hope you feel more confident and more prepared as a new manager juggling your various duties and building a healthy and productive team. So if you have to leave now or you need to leave because the time constraints, feel free. Remember, everything is going to be sent out for slides and the Q&A. Go and grab the baton. Get up on the podium. Go create something great.
And now give me just a minute because I did see that there were some great questions coming in, so give me just a moment to take a look at those. As I said before, we may run over by a couple of minutes. And if we do, that’ll be sent out as well. So let me take a look in here.
Okay. All right. “So at-will, employees can be terminated with or without cause or notice?”
That is correct. And every state, with the exception of Montana, is at-will. I will tell you though, at-will with the number of protections that most employees enjoy under the law, you want to make sure that you’re not always playing the at-will card because there is a lot of risk involved with just citing at-will.
“How do you handle the new laws regarding marijuana legalizations in state’s employees coming to work?”
So if employees, even if the state has legalized it, you, as an employer, do not have to allow active use at work. You can still hold employees to your company policy. Just as you know, we wouldn’t allow somebody to be drunk at work. You don’t have to allow them to be high. If you are under the impression that someone is under the influence, what you want to do is reasonable suspicion testing. That’s a process where you have a second manager who also observes the same behavior and then you take a process from there, depending on what your company policy is, whether that’s sending them for a drug screen or a breathalyzer or something like that. There’s not much you can do, Kenneth, because if the employee doesn’t qualify for FMLA, they don’t qualify. Some states have less restrictive requirements in terms of employee count, but the hours are a pretty solid thing.
And then Yesenia, I see following up on your question there. “As an executive director, how do I discipline an administrator who’s micromanaging various departments and they’re venting about the administrator?”
Where I would start is sitting down and getting some specifics, and then potentially meeting with the employee, so…
Not necessarily, Frank. You’re not going to necessarily be like, “Hey, I need a note.” You’re going to follow the FMLA process if you’re covered by it. And that’s what’s going to take you through everything.
Jesse, if you’re talking about termination, you want to have your preparation in place, but really, even if they’re arguing or they’re full of excuses, the decision is made, right? It’s no longer up for debate at that point. It’s simply just going to be, “At this point, the decision is made to end your employment,” so…
All right. So that brings us just about a minute over. I do want to be respectful of everyone’s time, and those are some great questions, so thank you all for jumping in with those. And as I said, and I do see that in the chat. Yes, the PowerPoint slides are going to be emailed out as is a recording of the meeting. And so with that, let me say one more time. It was an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for taking an hour of your time to learn about being a new manager. Have a great rest of the day.