Prevention is better than cure in employee relationships

by Andrew Kellard

Resolving unhappy employees’ complaints can be managed effectively before any matters become formal grievances

Location: UK
Published: Thursday 18 August 2022
people talking

Managing relationships with employees can easily be overlooked. For GPs it’s a broad concept, without a clear process, and so often at the mercy of individual personalities.

However, taking a relations-focused approach to managing staff can reap many rewards: a happy and motivated workforce, fewer capability and misconduct issues, and fewer time-consuming procedures. As doctors we know prevention is better than cure.


Respect differences

A healthy workplace is open-minded and inclusive. There can be many beliefs, identities and circumstances, even in a small team, but there’s no reason why everyone can’t work together happily when managed appropriately.

For example, an employee in a GP practice once made offhand but concerning remarks about another colleague’s behaviour. The EAS (the BMA employer advisory service) helped a partner in the practice to ensure they handled the situation properly. The key is respect – and creating a culture that values it above all else.

Keep an eye out for where tension might arise and explore ways to build and maintain respect, from one-on-one conversations to team-wide training sessions. Difference doesn’t have to be a source of challenge; it can be an opportunity to learn and strengthen relationships.


Consistency is key

We’re all human, including managers, so we’ll invariably like some people more than others. It’s vital that we don’t allow this to affect how we manage staff. A consistent approach will ensure fairness and avoid escalating the problem.

In one case, an older member of staff resented being managed by a recently hired, younger manager. It escalated to a point where intervention was needed. An EAS adviser guided the practice manager on how to address the staff member’s behaviour, as well as manage their deeper concerns. This paved the way for appropriate behaviour and communication in the future.

It was at times extremely stressful for all involved, and it was good to have the BMA’s expertise to guide us along the way’
Practice manager

Managers should apply policy and procedure consistently, and handle matters with the same attitude regardless of who is involved. This ensures a sense of fairness, which is vital to good employee relations.


Be mindful of cliques and social dynamics

Friendships can develop at work, and can be an essential support system – our colleagues often see us through challenging times. However, cliques or tight-knit social groups can create issues.

When an employee in their notice period raised concerns about social cliques in their exit interview, the EAS guided the practice manager on what to do. It is important to pay attention to how new staff are treated, or when an employee seems isolated.

This could point to unaddressed relationship issues or even acts of misconduct. Don’t let your own relationship with staff members get in the way either – be as impartial as possible and keep an eye out.


Informal over formal

Disagreements are unavoidable, and how they’re best handled depends on the circumstances. However, in most cases, an informal approach is most effective and efficient.

Often, simply listening to employees can go a long way to resolving issues. Managers with good judgement and listening skills can nip issues in the bud before they become more significant.


Dealing with grievances

Unfortunately, sometimes a relationship issue or complaint must be addressed in a more structured way. An accusation may be too serious, or a problem too dysfunctional, to be solved informally. A formal grievance procedure is then essential to meet the employer’s legal obligations and deal with the matter correctly.

In one case, a salaried GP submitted a multi-page grievance covering a range of issues. The partners didn’t know where to start, but the EAS guided them through each step.

Your organisation should have a robust grievance policy, which maps out the routes of complaint available to an employee (typically informal or formal) and what to expect. This is an essential reference point. There are statutory requirements for formal grievances, and it’s important that all managers understand this process. A manager might need to step in and take over a process if there are impartiality issues.

Learn how to identify a grievance. Sometimes this can be unclear, due to how it’s communicated or a lack of confidence from the complainant. Don’t ignore offhand remarks and be prepared to engage an employee directly if you suspect they are raising a concern.


Talk it through with an adviser

It’s fine to still feel unsure how to proceed. If in doubt, contact the EAS – we’re here to talk it through, untangle the complications and help you plan your next steps. We’ll make you aware of any risks and point to statutory requirements when necessary.

Call 0300 123 1233 or email [email protected]

The service is free for practices where a partner is a BMA member.

Andrew Kellard is an adviser on the BMA employer advisory service