Development Food Manager

13 Ways Food Managers Can Approach Hard Employee Conversations

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Trust20 Contributors • 8 minute read

As a food manager, you know that part of your job is to handle difficult conversations with your team.

But sometimes, when confronted with hard decisions or uncomfortable topics, it’s easier said than done.

Whether it’s giving out negative feedback or handling workplace conflicts, our goal in this post is to provide a guide for effectively managing the difficult conversations food managers may encounter with their staff.

We’ll first cover when you need to have a conversation, then dig into our advice for how to approach these tough conversations, and about abandoning the conversation.

When Do I Need To Have A Conversation With My Employee?

As a manager, it is critical that you create a clean and safe environment for your customers to enjoy. To accomplish this, you need to have a professional, dependable team that follows your guidelines.

However, not every team member will always meet your expectations or follow the rules. Sometimes, this is purposeful–but sometimes, it's done purely out of blissful ignorance.

In some cases, having a conversation can resolve the issue, but knowing when to talk and when to let things slide can be tough. Here are some of the most critical scenarios for having a conversation with your team.

Customer Relations

One of the most challenging aspects of the food service industry is managing customer emotions. While it is impossible to control how customers react, you can control how your team responds.

However, if someone on your staff encounters an irate customer, it is important to have a conversation with them to understand the situation and discuss better ways to handle the situation. Reiterate the importance of professionalism and maintaining composure in those scenarios.

Personal Hygiene Issues

Your team’s personal hygiene is essential to maintaining a clean and safe work environment. Having a conversation with your staff about hygiene is critical in preventing foodborne illnesses.

If you notice someone on staff has poor hygiene, it is important to address this with them directly.

Improper Sanitizing and Disinfection Practices

Recent history has brought about unprecedented changes to the way we interact as a society. As a service-oriented industry, the importance of proper sanitizing and disinfecting has become even more of a top priority. 

If you notice anyone on staff who is not following the guidelines provided to them, it's important to remind them of their obligation to keep the environment safe and to take responsibility for adhering to your established protocols. 

Dress Code Violations

Establishing a proper dress code is critical to maintaining professionalism in the food industry. When someone is not meeting the dress code, it may negatively impact the perception of your business. Have a conversation with them about the importance of adhering to dress codes and provide solutions to help them meet those standards.

Miscellaneous Topics

Sensitive issues like interpersonal relationships among your staff or even drug use are personal and may be challenging to address. However, having a conversation is important if you suspect a violation.

By having these confidential conversations, you can understand the situation better and provide guidance to handle the scenario sensitively.

How Do You Deal With Uncomfortable Conversations? 13 Tips

There's no question about it–having uncomfortable conversations with your staff can be challenging.

Whether it involves addressing sensitive issues like tardiness, performance, or even individual behavior, you've got to learn how to approach the situation with tact and sensitivity. This is the best way to maintain a healthy work environment.

Here are some tips on how to have difficult–yet productive–conversations with your team.

1. Focus On Your Own Viewpoint First, and Recognize Your Own Emotions

It's easy to become frustrated or resentful when dealing with difficult conversations. It is vital to recognize these emotions and address them first. Try to understand your viewpoint and motivations for the conversation, and then approach others with clarity and empathy.

2. Plan the Conversation, But Don't Script It 

Having an idea of what you want to say and a clear objective for the conversation is necessary to make things productive. However, scripting the conversation can make it come across as insincere and dismissive.

Instead, just jot down some talking points or scenarios that might get the conversation going.

3. Acknowledge Your Own Role in the Problem 

When addressing an issue with someone, it's essential to acknowledge your role in it. 

Were the problems caused by a failure on your part to provide proper training? Did you ignore an issue that has now impacted the way your team functions? Take some time to evaluate your own role in the problem.

Only then can you establish mutual trust, which is essential in helping your team member understand the situation better.

Don't just silently acknowledge the blame, either. Be vocal about your own issues. Taking responsibility for your part in the situation will help your team member avoid becoming defensive.

4. Determine What You Want to Change and Come Up With a Loose Action Plan 

Every conversation should have an objective or desired outcome. Determine the behavior change you want to see, and (with their input, if possible) come up with a loose action plan to get there.

5. Practice Active Listening

Active listening is the art of listening to understand instead of responding. Make eye contact, respond appropriately, and avoid abrupt interruptions. Active listening will help you understand the other person's point of view and make them more open to your own.

6. Assess the Situation First 

As a food manager, you already know that your job requires a certain level of diplomacy and tact. Whether it's dealing with unruly customers or managing a difficult team, you're used to handling uncomfortable conversations every day.

When it comes to having difficult discussions with your staff, it's essential that you take a step back and assess the situation before diving in headfirst. This means examining their behavior, past performances, and any underlying issues that may be impacting their work. 

Taking a measured approach allows you to handle the conversation with sensitivity and understanding, ensuring that both you and your employee can move forward constructively.

7. Consider All the Variables

As a food manager, having uncomfortable conversations with your staff can be daunting. However, it's important to consider all the variables before approaching a sensitive topic, such as hygiene issues in the workplace.

While it may be easy to jump to conclusions or assumptions, keeping an open mind is important. Consider, for example, that there may be underlying medical problems causing the issue. By approaching these conversations with empathy and understanding, you can create a safe and respectful environment for both you and your team.

8. Remember That Feedback Can–and Should–Go Both Ways

Remember that feedback isn't a one-way street. Your team has valuable insights, and opening up the dialogue to them can actually be beneficial for everyone involved. Encouraging your staff to provide feedback on their experiences, concerns, and suggestions can help to create a more positive work environment and ultimately lead to better results. 

9. Ask Whether More Training is Needed–and Follow Up Accordingly 

When approaching these conversations, it's important to keep in mind that sometimes the root of the issue is a lack of training. Asking whether more training is needed may alleviate the immediate concern and prevent future issues.

After all, investing in your staff and their education is always better than repeatedly addressing the same problems.

Ensuring your team is properly trained benefits the organization and ultimately benefits each staff member, as they will feel more confident and knowledgeable in their roles.

10. Remember That Confidentiality Matters

It can be difficult to discuss sensitive topics such as poor performance, inappropriate behavior, or disciplinary actions, but it's essential to protect the privacy of both parties involved. By ensuring that these conversations aren't overheard by other teammates or shared outside of the workplace, you can maintain trust and respect with your staff as a whole.

Creating a culture of confidentiality can also encourage everyone to feel more comfortable coming to you with their own concerns or issues. 

11. Consider the Group Approach, But Be Cautious Doing So 

When it comes to addressing sensitive topics, the group approach can be a tempting option. However, it is important to proceed with caution.

While addressing a group can save time and ensure consistent messaging, it can also create an intimidating atmosphere and make it difficult for individuals to speak up. In some cases, you may be wasting time by addressing an entire group rather than just one individual, as the issue might only apply to one person, and that person might not realize they're the problem.

This, again, is why it's so important to assess the situation before you have any kind of conversation. If it's a problem you're noticing with multiple people–for example, several of your workers are repeatedly clocking out early, and that behavior needs to stop–address it as a group. If it's just one person–Billy isn't great about washing his hands when he gets to work every day–just address that individual and that individual only. 

12. Be Helpful, Not Accusatory 

It's best to approach conversations in a helpful, non-accusatory way. This means focusing on finding solutions and addressing issues together rather than placing blame or making your staff feel attacked.

Don't just list a litany of reasons Sarah is not doing a good enough job. Be specific about the problem, but rather than framing it as an accusation, treat it like a fact-finding mission. Does she need more training? Is something going on in her personal life?

Being empathetic and supportive can create a positive and collaborative environment where everyone feels heard and valued. 

13. Close the Loop and Follow Up

Having difficult conversations is, well, difficult enough! But the situation hasn't resolved itself once the conversation is over.

Following up on these conversations is equally important, as it demonstrates your commitment to your team’s success and accountability for driving change. Check in with your team often to make sure they feel supported and provide any feedback or assistance as needed.

By prioritizing communication and follow-up, you can help ensure a positive and productive workplace for all.

Know When to Talk and Know When to End Things

As a food manager, you're not just in charge of making sure the dishes are perfect, and the ingredients are fresh.

You also have to manage your team, which means having conversations that may not be easy or enjoyable. When it comes to uncomfortable talks, it's important to handle them with maturity and professionalism. Learning how to judge when to have a conversation and when it's better to wait will make your life easier. 

When you do have a talk, be respectful and clear in your communication. However, it's important to know when to end a conversation. If things get too heated or emotional, it's okay to take a break and return to the conversation later. Remember, your goal as a manager is not just to have a productive kitchen, but to support your staff and create a positive work environment. 

Being able to handle uncomfortable conversations effectively is a critical part of that.

Another part of being an effective manager is knowing when the working arrangement with a certain individual isn't going to work out. While having conversations first is always the wisest step, sometimes serious safety or health issues can't be allowed to slide any longer. You may need to take steps to terminate that individual's employment. 

It can be stressful to realize that you need to fire someone–especially when you have shifts to fill. Fortunately, there are all kinds of resources out there that can help you fill those shifts, like Poached. This platform helps you find qualified work quickly, so you don't have to worry about leaving gaps behind when you, unfortunately, have to let someone go.

Ultimately, know that you shouldn't take these difficult conversations personally. While they can illuminate improvement areas for all parties involved, they should be viewed as an opportunity for growth and learning.

By equipping yourself with the right skills and resources, you can successfully lead these discussions and create a workplace culture where everyone feels encouraged to perform at their best.

Start Trust20's Food Manager Program today.