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New Blog Post - How to Handle Touchy Subjects

Tuesday, March 5, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Samantha Tyler

It’s inevitable that HR professionals will eventually have to deal with some touchy subjects. Here are a few examples and how best to work through them to ensure fairness and dignity for everyone involved.


·         Employee behavior: gossip, bullying, and insubordination

HR’s role is to provide guidance and training to managers to help uncover the underlying issues that may be contributing to any of these situations.

Often, employees engage in disruptive behavior because they feel they are not being heard. Being proactive in listening to employees and encouraging feedback can de-escalate negative behaviors before they get out of control.

Avoid using general statements such as “you always…” but rather use specific examples. Provide honest feedback by focusing on the behavior without making it a personal attack. Address how the behavior affects the team and productivity and general workplace morale. Then be specific about what behavior should be displayed instead.

Document and follow disciplinary policies when appropriate. Ultimately, the employee has the responsibility to correct their behavior.


·         Office romances

Every company should have an office dating policy in its employee handbook. If your company doesn’t, now is the time to implement a policy and consequences for violations.

It’s generally a good idea to require workers to disclose consensual relationships and even sign a contract stating that both parties are in the relationship of their own volition. This contract can help the company defend itself against future harassment cases and the employees don’t have to hide their relationship.

And while we’re on this particular touchy subject, it’s a good idea for companies to hold annual or biannual anti-harassment training events reminding employees of what is acceptable behavior in any stage of an office relationship…including (and maybe especially) the ending.


·         Employee hygiene

This one can be really embarrassing for everyone involved. Realizing that the situation is temporary and usually has an easy fix should make it a little easier on everyone. Most of the time, people don’t even know that they have an issue like body odor.

In order to make the discussion easier, be empathetic while also being professional and straightforward. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help the employee resolve the issue. It could be that the employee is in need of help and this is a perfect opportunity for them to reach out.

It’s best to broach this touchy subject at the end of the day so the employee will be able to leave soon after and not be self-conscious all day. It’s important to address an employee’s hygiene if you have direct, first-hand knowledge of the situation. This is definitely a one-on-one conversation. Don’t involve any other employees in the discussion.


The best strategy for helping managers and HR pros and employees deal with these touchy situations is training. Preventive, ongoing training for employees on behavioral expectations and consequences of falling short of those expectations is critical. Continuing training for management and HR personnel on how to handle specific situations is equally important.

Facilitating meaningful teamwork activities is a great way to avoid these types of issues arising in the first place and helps to build better understanding between co-workers. Understanding each other better can lessen the possibility for these touchy situations to arise between coworkers. Training in things like business etiquette, cultural sensitivity and diversity awareness go a long way in to making a workplace work better.




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