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Hidden Employment Issues – Conversation Starters

Following our recent Hidden Issues in Employment webinars, I thought it might be helpful (not least because numerous people asked) to provide a few “conversation openers”.  As you’ll have heard me repeat, the most important thing to do is start the conversation, but it’s often the “how” that stumps people.  Understandably the fear of getting it wrong can result in managers putting these tricky conversations into the “one for tomorrow” pile, and we know what happens to those….


So top 10 conversation starters:


2 easy openers when someone appears withdrawn, distanced, distracted:

  • I’ve noticed that you seem [a bit distracted][to have lost some focus], is everything ok or is there something I can help with?
  • I’ve noticed that you’ve been less [available][engaged] than normal, is your workload ok? Is there anything that it would, be useful for me to know?


2 openers to initiate conversation before performance concerns are raised:

  • You didn’t seem as focussed as normally [on that last piece of work][in that last meeting] is everything ok?
  • I’ve noticed that recently [a few deadlines have been missed][you don’t seem to be demonstrating the same level of work as you were]?  Is there anything that it would be useful for me to know?


2 options for raising health concerns:

  • You seem to have had an increasing number of absences recently?  Are you feeling ok?  Is there anything underlying that I can help with or has this just been a run of bad luck picking up bugs?
  • I’m really concerned about you.  You don’t seem as if you are 100% at the moment?  Are you having any health concerns that would be useful for me to know about?


2 options for flagging poor performance:

  • [I’m concerned that your performance levels seem to have taken a dip.] [It has come to my attention that [there have been a few complaints recently] [your attention to detail has declined] [performance targets being missed]].  We really do expect people to perform at the highest level.  Is there anything I need to know so that I can support you?
  • Your most recent appraisal wasn’t as good as previous ones, is there anything going on, inside or outside of work, that could be impacting?  Can I help?


An option for asking about caring responsibilities:

  • I’ve noticed that recently you seem to be under some [increasing] pressure, and from our conversations that you have a lot of caring responsibility.  Is there anything you need from us to support you to make that balance a little easier?


And finally – one for every eventuality:

  • Start with facts that you have noticed: I’ve noticed that [insert what you have noticed using neutral language that doesn’t refer to the person but to what you have noticed].
  • Make a statement of concern: I’m concerned that something is having an impact on how you are working.
  • Explain that you are worried about the individual NOT the business: I’m worried about you.
  • Offer assistance: Is there anything I should be aware of or can do to help?
  • Refer to policy: Please do speak up if I can help, but in the meantime take a look at our employee relations policies in case there is anything there that can assist.
  • Put a follow up on the radar: I’ll check back in a [a day or so / week or so] just to see how things are.


Adele Martins, Head of Employment
T: 020 7317 6719
E: [email protected]

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