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Managers too polite to tackle staff on wrongdoing

Observers in a playground may notice the looks of disapproval at parents who fail to stop their child throwing sand, hitting or generally being a nuisance to other children. When lines of acceptable behaviour have been crossed, most would expect a child to be told so.

But when adults cross a line in the workplace, research suggests their peers find it difficult to confront them about it - even with the authority of being a manager or a supervisor.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents in a survey by webexpenses said they were 'too polite' when managing difficult situations at work.

Around one in five people said they hadn't challenged workers who took 'too long' on their lunch break, or who had come into work late. The same proportion had even let fraudulent expenses claims go by without comment.

When asked why they had allowed such transgressions to pass, the top answers were:

  • not wanting to upset anyone (20 per cent)
  • not feeling comfortable about having difficult conversations at work (20 per cent)
  • not wanting to appear rude (17 per cent).

Detrimental effect

Adam Reynolds, CEO of webexpenses, said, 'The findings of our research clearly show that stereotypical British politeness is having an increasingly detrimental effect on the nation's businesses.

'The reluctance of UK managers to challenge their employees over simple discrepancies and a failure to observe simple workplace protocol could be costing these organisations considerable amounts of money and time.

'For instance, when looking at expense claims our research revealed that over 26 per cent of managers feel "awkward" or wouldn't know how to deal with a person who has made a fraudulent claim expenses claim in the workplace.'

What could be interpreted as 'politeness' could as easily be put down to a lack of skills in broaching tricky subjects with employees.

Given the right training, and with some practice on certain techniques, managers can handle difficult conversations with confidence, helping them to tackle persistent and difficult workplace behaviours.

Acas publications and services

The Acas guide pdf icon Challenging conversations and how to manage them [195kb] and our training on Handling difficult conversations will help you to stay in control of whatever situation comes your way.

If you have an urgent issue to deal with and need to get some quick practical advice, the pdf icon Challenging conversations - step by step table [45kb] is at hand.

Additional practical training courses on the related areas of essential Skills for supervisors, Discipline and grievance, Investigations and Performance management are also available.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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