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Owning the Problem for Employees

Management team members key to finding policy/procedure answers for employees

ROANOKE, Va. — As a member of a management team, you will often be approached by employees with questions about company policies or procedures. 

In our very busy life, we often brush these questions aside or tell them to ask someone else. This is not what we should be doing. If an employee is concerned enough about an issue to overcome their fears of management and approach you for help or clarification, it is important for us to own the problem. 

What do I mean by owning the problem? As members of the management team, we become their advocate in solving the problem or getting the answer. We are in a better position to find the answer for the employee than is the employee. We may need to call human resources (HR) or payroll or benefits to find out the answer. They do not want us to pass them off to someone else or be told to call HR. 

A recent experience comes to mind. An employee asked his manager why his check had not arrived in the mail as normal. The manager was busy and did not reply. Two days later after the check had still not arrived, the employee again asked his manager. 

The manager’s response? “Have you called human resources or told your supervisor?” The employee responded by saying, “I told my manager, that should be enough, and besides I do not have human resources’ number and do not know who to talk in that department.” The manager said, “Tell your supervisor, and he will work with you to solve the problem.” 

How could this have been handled better? The manager could have answered the first communication with, “I understand your concern, and if it does not show up in two days, please let me know and we will get HR and payroll involved.” 

Then when the second communication took place, the manager could have said that he had assigned the supervisor to be the point man on the problem, given him all the information he had and that he might be contacting the employee for additional information that might be needed. If for any reason the supervisor did not respond promptly to let him know and he would remedy the situation. 

To hourly employees, corporate departments are distant and very mysterious. They are not comfortable reaching out and talking to those departments. 

When I was a manager, I had another situation arise where I had an employee who was 71 years old. She was still working and not drawing on their pension. According to all the paperwork I had access to, she was eligible to draw her pension and work at the same time. 

The first time the employee applied to start her pension, she was denied because the general rule was you could not get your pension while still actively working. She asked me why she got denied, and I contacted the person in benefits who had denied the application. I then asked that person to review the policy and note the exemption for anyone who was still working at or beyond 71 years of age. 

The benefits employee reviewed the policy and said I was correct and that the employee could start drawing her pension. That person apologized and told me that this was the first time she had run into an employee that old asking for their pension while still working. 

This happy employee told a number of their fellow employees how helpful I was and what a good person she thought I was. Employee morale went up and an employee was happy, and all it took was a five-minute phone call on my part. 

It is important to remember that task which to us may seem simple and routine can be major stumbling blocks to our employees. We need to take ownership of a problem when they bring it to us and make sure they get the answer, the understanding, they desire.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].