Employee relationships, like any other relationships, rely on excellent communication. Poor communication can easily lead to misunderstandings and faulty assumptions that can poison employee morale, and leave workers confused and frustrated. That, in turn, leads to low productivity, high employee turnover, and a generally unenjoyable work atmosphere. While any number of problems can impact morale, one of the first things a business should examine when dealing with these symptoms is to examine their hiring process and how employment contracts are written.

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How your business forms its business relationships with employees ultimately shapes their expectations, and lays the groundwork for your respective roles and responsibilities in the relationship. Communicating this information clearly and exhaustively is a critical part of building a healthy company culture, and a well integrated and high-performance team.

Job descriptions

A very common problem for employees is “role creep”, meaning that they find themselves loaded up with more and more responsibilities that may or may not be related to their actual job as time goes by. The culprit behind this is often a poorly written and unenforced job description. It’s tempting for managers to define jobs vaguely, precisely because it makes it easier to delegate tasks. Unfortunately, that can be devastating for employee morale and ultimately harm your business.

Clearly defining the exact role and scope of an employee’s responsibilities isn’t just good for morale, it’s also good for your business. It allows workers to predictably manage their time, and also helps management to define more precisely how much time and effort will be expended on particular tasks. Arbitrarily expanding an employee’s role can have devastating effects on the quality of their work, and in some cases, that might not become apparent until much later. These kinds of changes are better made in a controlled manner.

Talk about compensation

Employment contracts need to do more than simply set an initial wage or salary. They need to include all compensation and benefit information in writing, including how raises, holidays, sick days, vacations, parental leave, and insurance are handled. Additionally, you’ll also need to go out of your way to ensure that workers actually know and understand all this information.

Don’t allow new hires to simply scan and sign employment papers, but actively talk about this particularly critical information to ensure that they’ve taken it in. Setting payment terms down in writing, and ensuring that team members understand them and can refer back to them makes it easier for them to communicate proactively if they feel that there’s a problem.

It’s important to do this, because it can be very risky for people to bring perceived issues up to their superiors. An employee who thinks they are due for a raise might well avoid bringing it up for fear of being seen as disgruntled or problematic because of it. Instead, they’ll simply grow more frustrated and resentful over time if issues don’t resolve themselves. Understanding exactly what they’re entitled to, and how to address these concerns, is critical for clarifying these issues before they start.

Establish how to resolve disputes

Business owners and managers generally don’t intentionally encourage poor communication. In fact, many actively establish “open-door” policies, inviting anyone to bring their concerns to them. These open door policies aren’t bad, of course, but they’re going to miss many or most of the issues that actually need attention. Grievances that could lead to increased interpersonal tensions, things that might concern you personally, or things that the individual might consider harmful to their own careers aren’t likely to ever make it to your desk. Often, issues that do reach you are brought up far too late. If they want to avoid the problems this causes, businesses need low-risk mechanisms to help maintain effective communication.

Workers ultimately need a way to communicate problems and concerns to the company without passing them directly into their own chain of command. Providing a third party, such as your human resources department, to anonymously receive concerns, and to mediate conflicts, reduces that sense of risk.

It’s ultimately in the business’ interests to ensure that these tools are used as much as possible. To encourage this, you should introduce new hires to the relevant staff, and discuss the procedure for resolving disputes with them before they start their new position.

Ensuring that these issues are thoroughly addressed in the hiring process lays the groundwork for active and healthy communication in your business. When workers know exactly what they’ve signed up for, what they’re going to get out of the relationship, and what to do if they have a problem, they’ll have the context they need to communicate effectively with your business. As a result, you’ll be better able to develop the company culture you need to set your business up for success.