Can we give employees too much information?

I went to see a nutritionist this morning as I wanted some advice on my diet.  I spent 90 minutes talking about managing blood sugar levels, the impact antibiotics have on the gut, how the kinesthetic approach to  food tolerance testing works, and how stress impacts the digestive system.

This afternoon, I can’t remember any of the science behind her recommendations, but all I know is that I’m to abstain from all caffeine (coffee and diet coke feature a lot in my diet), eat more nuts and seeds, go wholemeal, eat a little less red meat and a little more white meat.

In my case, it doesn’t really matter how much of the science  I do or don’t remember, I’m clear about what my actions are.  But is this always the case with employees who are going through some kind of formal procedure?

I’ve been supporting two friends recently as they have been under threat of dismissal (one for gross misconduct, the other due to redundancy).  It’s been interesting being on the other side of the fence, seeing how hard it is for an employee to navigate the formal procedures we use in HR.

In the redundancy situation there were so many different options for my friend that it just confused the issue.  My cynical mind thinks that the organisation used my friend’s confusion to their benefit, trying to persuade her to take a voluntary severance (VS) over what appeared to be a clear case (to me) of compulsory redundancy.  Obviously, the VS package was the cheaper option for the organisation.  The more questions my friend asked (following our conversations), the more information she received. Even for me, it felt like wading through treacle at times.

In the other case, the employee hadn’t realised what the allegations were that had been made against her when she was suspended.  Having reviewed the documentation she received, they did inform her – but she just hadn’t heard or understood.  Despite being supported by her union, she was given very little information on what was happening to her, what the next steps were, and how she could best prepare.

When I’m talking to employees I try to give them the full picture , including the worse case scenario.  If employees are going through organisastional change, I tell them from the start of the process that it might end in redundancy.   I inform witnesses in disciplinary investigations that their interview notes or statements might end up being public documents should the case get to an Employment Tribunal.  I think it’s important, so that employees can prepare themselves and make the right decisions based on the long-term view.

But how much do employee’s really take on board when we bombard them with this information at a difficult and stressful time in their employment?  Whilst we might follow-up any conversation in writing, do employees really read the finer details?  How much more should an employer do once it’s met its legal implications?

There is the argument that employees have their trade union representative who can support them in such instances.  However, in my experience, the quality and experience of the union support is variable.  There are some great union reps, and others who I feel miss the point and confuse the issues – and it’s the employee that suffers.

Another approach is to keep on re-iterating the key information to the employee(s) concerned.  I could be wrong, but I’ve never heard of an employee tribunal being lost due to an employee being given too much information.

In the centre of all this is the need to consider each employee as an individual.  Each employee reacts to their situation differently.  In cases of gross misconduct, some staff show remorse whilst other don’t when faced with similar scenarios.  The threat of redundancy can be a positive or negative experience for employees -depending on their personal circumstances.

What I have learnt over the years is that it is impossible to pre-judge an employee’s reaction to redundancy or other dismissal situations.  I’ve also observed that employee’s will tell us when they’ve “got it” and will keep on asking questions when they haven’t.

And if an employee is still asking questions…….. the organisation hasn’t yet given them enough information.

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One comment on “Can we give employees too much information?

  1. Wow. Really sobering post but one I enjoyed.

    I have moved out of HR in to an L&D role and it this kind of thing that always used to get me worried – has the empoyee got the key information that I am required to provide, have they understood it and are aware of the next steps.

    Difficult to call it but, as you say, you are never likely to lose a tribunal for giving too much information and if the employee is asking questions there is probably a good reason as to why.

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