Coffee Break - Renee Thompson_28

EP 28: Strengthening Workplace Relationships Through HR Collaboration


If you want to cultivate and sustain a healthy work culture, you have to involve your HR partners.

In this episode, Dr. Renee Thompson emphasizes the importance of fostering a healthy and respectful work culture by addressing disruptive behaviors and strengthening the relationship with human resources (HR). She highlights the common disconnect between leaders and HR when dealing with problematic employees, stressing the need for a unified approach. Renee shares strategies to build a better relationship with HR, such as initiating informal coffee chats to build rapport and align goals for improving workplace culture, and ways to address disruptive behaviors early through honest conversations and documentation. Moreover, Renee underscores the significance of clear communication and decision-making regarding corrective actions, including termination if necessary, and encourages healthcare leaders to engage in ongoing efforts to stop the cycle of bullying by subscribing to the podcast and implementing shared strategies in healthcare organizations. 

Tune in and learn how to cultivate a healthier and more respectful work environment by tackling an age-old problem in healthcare: bullying and incivility!

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CB_Renne Thompson Solo: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Renee Thompson:
Plants thrive and grow in a peaceful, nourished environment, right? Well, it's the same with human beings. But what if that environment is not so peaceful? What if it's toxic? Welcome to Coffee Break: Breaking the Cycle of Bullying in Healthcare – One Cup at a Time. In this podcast, you'll get practical, evidence-based strategies to help you cultivate and sustain a healthy and respectful work culture by tackling an age-old problem in healthcare: bullying and incivility. I am your host, Doctor Renee Thompson.

Renee Thompson:
Hi everyone! Welcome back to another episode of the Coffee Break podcast. When organizations reach out to us for, say, training, for consulting, they want to enroll some of their leaders into one of our programs; here's the deal: I say no unless HR is in the room. I'm serious. If they want me to come out and do a four-hour workshop or two-half-day workshops, or enroll a group of their leaders into eradicating bullying and incivility course, I won't do it unless HR is a part of it. If you want to cultivate and sustain a healthy work culture and address disruptive behaviors, you have to have a strong partnership with human resources, and that's exactly what we're going to talk about on this show today: how to strengthen the relationship that you have with your human resource partners. Okay, let me tell you what's happening out there, though first. I've been hearing this, I'd say, for the last 12 years. A leader will reach out to me and say, you know what? I finally decide that I'm going to do something about my toxic employee, and I go to HR, and I tell them, I need you to approve this termination, and I get this from HR. What did you counsel this person? How many times did you counsel this person? Five times? Oh, no; you need to counsel them at least 27 times before we can do anything about it. I hit a brick wall when I get to HR. Guess what? About 30% of the people who reach out to us asking for help are from HR. So I've spent a lot of time with them and this is what I hear from them. They'll have a manager come into their office demanding that they approve some type of corrective action or termination. There's hardly any documentation, they've never heard about this employee before, and when they look at that employee's performance reviews, they see that they've had either meets or exceeds expectations for the last 15 years. There's a disconnect there. And so, how do we reconnect with our HR partners? The first thing that you all need to do is recognize that the lens that you, if you're in a leadership role, you're an executive, you're a senior leader, you're a front-line manager, the lens that you view everything in your department, in your organization, is a different lens that HR views. So your lens is about quality, safety, dealing with just building a healthier work culture, and addressing disruptive behaviors. HR, their lens is looking at the employees, protecting the employees, and protecting the organization. But when you think about it, you all want the same thing, but you're each going to look at a situation with a difficult employee through a different set of lenses, and it's not to say it is what it is, but you have to recognize that. They're making this, so HR is making decisions based on this criteria, and you're making decisions based on your criteria. So first, recognize that it's just a different set of lenses. Here's what we always recommend when we're working with our leaders. We recommend that they first, let's say you want to start building a better relationship with HR because maybe you've struggled in the past. Just meet them for coffee. Just have a coffee chat. I would take a look at who is your HR business partner or HR representative. And let's say you're on the journey; you want to start addressing disruptive behaviors. Call your HR representative and say, Hey, do you have any time on Friday? Let's just meet for coffee. So just start very informally with a coffee chat. Get to know your HR person as a human being first. If you are someone in HR listening to this, get to know your leaders as human beings first. Build a relationship with them. And then from there we have a lot of strategies, okay, that we implement, especially in organizations we're doing consulting. I already told you, we involve HR in everything. Our Eradicating Bullying and Civility course for healthcare leaders, we ask HR go through that course too because they need to know what we're telling their leaders. Actually, module five was all about how to hold people accountable; that's all building relationship with HR. But I'm going to share some of what we teach our leaders when it comes to taking that next step. We already talked about, you have a coffee chat. Just say, My goal. So you always start with your intent. My intent is to really start addressing disruptive behaviors. And I would like to partner with you. I would like to work with you in doing that, okay? So you establish that right from the beginning. I want to start working on my culture, and I want to partner with you to do that. Even just that conversation can make a huge difference. And then from there, you, and it might not be that conversation, it might be another conversation, but you start talking about, all right, when I have an employee who behaves in a way that's disruptive, maybe it's yelling or cursing or refuses to take an assignment, whatever that is, this is my approach, and this is what we teach our leaders. I'm going to tell you this. I'll repeat it again. If you're going to adopt this approach, you need to have a conversation with HR about it to make sure that they agree because you have policies and a process that you have to follow. I always say, This is what we recommend. And make sure you have a conversation with HR to make sure you're all on the same page. But depending on the severity of the behavior, when an employee acts in a way that's disruptive, openly criticizing, maybe dropping the f-bomb, b-bomb, d-bomb, pull them into your office, and just have a conversation with them. So I look at that first incident, just informal. And it can even, it may or may not even be considered coaching. Hey, I need to talk to you. Can you step into my office? What happened this morning? I heard that you were yelling. I heard that you were criticizing. I heard that you gave the charge nurse a hard time about the assignment. What's going on with you? We don't do that here. I see this as having an honest and respectful conversation with that employee. This isn't anything that's corrective action. Especially, this is the first incident, okay? Remember that. And again, it's based on the severity. If somebody is punching someone, that's a whole different story; whole different situation. But just pull them aside and say, What's going on? I've never seen this behavior from you before. Or, Hey, this was brought to my attention. Is there something going on that I need to know about? But then you said as, We don't do that here. This is what I need to see from you moving forward, okay? You don't need to let HR know about that. I would document that incident, but I wouldn't really consider it part of a corrective action, just having a conversation. If it happens again, maybe it's refusing, flat-out refusing to take an assignment, not just giving the charge nurse a hard time, maybe it's flat-out refusing, then it's bringing them in your office, Okay, this is the second time you've done this, especially again, if it's something significant, and these are the expectations. I'm not going to do this. You set the behavioral expectations. You document everything. And what I'd like to do is after you have that conversation, email that employee. This is what we talked about. Be short and sweet though, okay? You don't use emails for, it's on a journal. This is what we talked about. This is what we agreed moving forward you would do. And then I always say, Please reply letting me know that you got this and let me know if I missed anything. Now you have a record of it. But if that behavior happens a second time, that's when you give HR a heads-up. Hey, okay, Tina, my HR business partner, something happened over the last couple of weeks that my employee, Amy, your last name, gave the charge nurse a hard time about her assignment in front of everyone. So I brought her into my office, I had a conversation with her. It happened again, so now I've documented it. I'm following our corrective action, but I wanted to give you a heads-up. Because by giving your HR representative a heads up, they already know now what's going on. If it happens again, you decide this is truly corrective action to the point of possible termination, HR already knows about it, and along the way they can counsel you on how to make sure you're documenting correctly, you're following your process. So if it gets to that point, HR is in your corner, and you're both on the same page. If it happens a third time, and like I said, beyond that's true corrective action, but again, if you've already given HR a heads-up, then they can be ready to help you with that documentation that you need if it gets to that point. And there are a couple of other things that I want to mention about this process. First of all, this is the process we recommend. I would share that with HR, actually have a listen to this podcast too, and say, Let's come up with a plan for this. At what point do you want me to give you a heads-up? Okay, maybe you have that conversation based on behavior, specific behaviors. For example, I was working with a client, and there was a nurse who flat out refused to take an assignment; actually stormed down the hallway saying, I'm not taking this effing assignment, actually said the word. And we talked to HR, and the manager says, Okay, what do I do in a situation like that? And HR said, Immediately call me. Like, this is SOS. Immediately call me. Because then what we did was we worked out a plan, and the plan was: immediately call HR and that manager to say to that nurse, Wait, hold on here; let me get this straight. Are you telling me you were, you are refusing to take this assignment? Because if you are, I'm going to send you home, and then call HR. And if they say, Well, I didn't, I'm not really refusing. Okay, because you said you were refusing to take his assignment. I need to know, are you going to? And we came up with a plan for that manager because before we actually sat down with HR, this was a situation where that nurse, Oh, that's just the way she is. She doesn't like her assignments. She has a fit, and what did the other nurses do, especially the chargers? They would accommodate her, and they would change her assignment. Like, Oh no, we're not going to play this game. But it was working with HR to come up with when that situation happens, because it was a common situation this manager was dealing with, when that happens, this is how you respond, and it was, it worked out beautifully. There were other times where, maybe it's not such a big deal, it's just the middle school type of behaviors, a little bit of exclusion, a little bit of favoritism. That's where you can also talk with your HR business partner to say, Which of these situations do you want me to give you a heads up? And plan that, so when it happens, it might just be like an email saying, Hey, just wanted to let you know. This is what's going on. This is how I'm handling it. Let me know if you want any more details. The heads-up can be that simple. And when we talk about a heads-up, what does that mean, okay? And that's where you can again have that conversation with HR and decide what a heads-up means. That could be exactly what I just said to you, to send them an email saying, Hey, this is what's going on. Just want to let you know. And in the subject line say, Heads-up. But when the situation was that the nurse refused to take an assignment, that is, call me immediately, okay? And then I know that this is something urgent. I worked with a manager, and she and her HR business partner actually came up with a code word that this manager would put in the subject line if she was dealing with a behavior of an employee that was escalating, that it wasn't urgent enough for her to call her immediately, but it was at that level where she needed to prioritize, I'm dealing with this right now. I need your help because when you think about it, like many of you, your HR business partner probably gets 200 emails a day; how do you help them filter through all of the emails that they get? And they came up with a code word that they would put in the subject line so that would alert HR that, Oh, this is a problem. And they actually figured that out together. Now, okay, I just want to do a little bit of a recap. There's no way that you can improve and sustain culture improvements in your department if you don't build a relationship with HR, okay? I'm telling you, build that relationship with HR, and it starts with just having a coffee chat with them. Get to know them as a human being. Tell them what your intent is, that you want to improve your culture, and then talk about some of the common situations you find yourself in as a leader in dealing with disruptive behaviors. Because, let's face it, dealing with performance issues and people showing up late and calling off, those are easy, but it's these disruptive behaviors that can get messy in that gray zone. So talk about them with your HR partner and say, Okay, here's what I'd like to do. I even heard this on a podcast. First incident, I'm just going to have a coffee conversation with that employee, okay? I'm just going to say, Hey, I heard this happened, not okay. This is what I expect from you, okay? You're right. All right, bye. But if it happens again, I'd like to at least give you a heads-up when it's happened again. And at that point, HR may not need to intervene to say, Okay, I'm like, I'm hearing you, I'm seeing you. We're good, but if it happens a third time, then I need you to intervene again based on the severity of the behaviors. But just talk about that with HR and come up with a plan. And again, be specific. What does giving HR a heads-up mean? Is it a phone call? Is it a text message? Is it an email with a coded subject line so that they know it's coming from you, and it's a, you've already decided that these types of behaviors warrant that this is important, but maybe not urgent? Because figuring this out with HR is going to make it so much easier for you later on if you have to get to the point where you've made the decision to terminate an employee. Now, I make it sound like, oh yeah, just have a coffee chat and you guys will figure this out and work it out, and there won't be any issues. That's not entirely true. I know there are challenges, especially when you have an employee who has been disruptive; you've done your due diligence, you've documented. An HR can really help you with this is how you document, okay? And then you try to put them on corrective action or to the point of termination. And you're told, No, there's not enough evidence yet. Or let's say you're in a union environment and you do terminate someone, they grieve it, and you have to bring them back. So there are real challenges in holding employees accountable for professional conduct that we're not going to address today. But I at least wanted to get you started on the path to building a better relationship with HR so some of the issues that we're seeing out there won't be issues for you anymore, because I hear that a lot from HR. I've never even heard about this employee. Now, if you establish this, Hey, what am I going to give you a heads up? HR at least knows about this employee and it'll make it easier in the end. Now, another disclaimer. I truly believe that if we have honest conversations with our employees, with our teams, the first incident, like we said, Hey, time out here, come into my office, we need to talk about this. What's going on here? Like, we don't treat people like this way. If we start engaging in these honest conversations with our employees real-time, I truly believe, and I've seen it, that most employees will start stepping up and behaving as professionals. But if we don't even say anything to them, we don't even have honest conversations with them, how is that ever going to happen? My goal is to not have to go down that corrective action path. And if you could start having honest conversations and checking, doing these check-ins and follow up with people who have been behaving in a disruptive manner, if you can do that more frequently, many cases, maybe I shouldn't say okay, but many times that employee can turn around. There's so much energy and time spent going down the corrective action path. My goal is that if you intervene early, you won't have to do that. But if you do, you want to have strong partnership with HR. And so, as we wrap up today, again, I just wanted to give you just some tips working with HR, building a stronger partnership with HR because if you want to cultivate and sustain a healthy work culture, you have to involve your HR partners. And I'll give you one last tip before we leave. I have had leaders complain to me that they go to HR, and HR won't let them fill in the blank, whether I corrective act or terminate them? And so what I recommend that a leader does is, you first have to decide what you want to happen with this employee. Because a lot of leaders who I coach, they complain about an employee. But I say, Well, what do you want to happen? Do you want them to be on corrective action? You want to terminate them? What do you want to do? And they're not sure. You have to get crystal clear first. Let's say you've been working with this employee, and for the last year and a half, you've counseled them 27 times, and their behavior hasn't changed. What do you want? Do you want to continue coaching and counseling this person, or do you want to terminate them? And here's what you do. Once you decide, you walk into, make an appointment with HR, and say, I've made the decision that I want to terminate this employee for these reasons, and then you say this, what do you need from me to make it thick? And they will tell you, Okay, this is what I need. This is the documentation that I need. This is, okay? This is what I need to make it stick. Ask, don't assume anything, but first, you have to decide what you want done with that employee. Just don't go and say, I don't know what to do with this employee. You have to know first, okay? All right. I hope that was helpful. We do have some resources that I'm going to put in the show notes when this episode airs that will help you. We have a couple of articles that I've written about documentation and about building a better relationship with HR. And of course, I'll include the link to our Eradicating Bullying and Incivility course, which module five is how to hold people accountable, and that's everything that we're talking about today and more. So I really want to thank you for doing your part to stop the cycle of bullying in healthcare. And if you like this podcast, I would be so incredibly grateful if you would post a review, rate this podcast, and share it with someone who may need to hear this content so that they can also cultivate a healthy work culture in their department. And remember, your culture didn't get this way overnight. It is certainly not going to change overnight, but it will change. The question is how do you want it to change? And my hope is that what you're learning in this podcast is actually stepping stones on your journey towards a healthier, more respectful, and kinder work culture. Thanks for being here, I appreciate you. Take care.

Renee Thompson:
Thank you for listening to Coffee Break: Breaking the Cycle of Bullying in Healthcare – One Cup at a Time. If you found these practical strategies helpful, we invite you to click the subscribe button and tune in every other week. For more information about our show and how we work with healthcare organizations to cultivate and sustain a healthy work culture free from bullying and incivility, visit Until our next cup of coffee, be kind, take care, and stay connected.

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Things You’ll Learn:
  • Tackling bullying and incivility head-on cultivates a healthy work culture.
  • Strong partnerships with HR play a crucial role in addressing workplace toxicity.
  • Practical strategies empower leaders to foster respectful workplaces.
  • Casual interactions allow leaders to build personal relationships with HR professionals, fostering trust and open communication necessary for effective workplace issue resolution.
  • Healthcare organizations must prioritize creating environments where all employees feel respected, valued, and supported instead of ignoring or sidestepping challenges.
  • Connect with and follow Renee Thompson on LinkedIn.
  • Learn more about the Healthy Workforce Institute on their LinkedIn and website.
  • Gain access to the Eradicating Bullying & Incivility course here!
  • Read the article How to Partner with HR to Prevent Workplace Bullying here!
  • Read the article Eliminate Bullying Through Deliberate Documentation here!
  • Get a copy of the book Enough! Eradicate Bullying & Incivility in Healthcare: Strategies for Front Line Leaders here!
Disclosure: The host may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to. As an Amazon Associate, Coffee Break earns from qualifying purchases.
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