Managing our greatest resource - people

1 June 2014

TAIMA CAMPBELL introduces some human resources advice for nurses – both employers and employees – on some approaches to resolving employment dilemmas.

From time to time, the College of Nurses office fields questions from members about employment and human resource management issues. Questions come from nurses who are the employer, as well as nurses who find themselves in situations where they lack access to good advice or are seeking a second opinion. The College network includes members with expertise in these areas, but even we need to call on the experts. We have invited human resources company EQ Consultants to share some of their problem-solving approaches and experience.

When good relations go bad

As a human resources company, EQ supports employers working through employment issues. We often have both employees and employers getting into difficulty, usually when a good relationship goes bad.

Just to be clear, we are not employment lawyers, so the legal disputes we leave to our litigious colleagues; instead we work within organisations like an external HR department.

The reference points we use for the day-to-day questions that come up (for both employers and employees) are the law, employment agreements, and policies and procedures. Otherwise, we work through a process of defining the issues and potential solutions for the parties concerned.

To give you some examples, the two (fictitious) scenarios below are typical of the issues that we deal with.

Scenario 1: John and Jean

John is the new CEO of an NGO and contacted us because there were a large number of issues he was uncovering within his organisation. One issue concerned Jean, who had been in her nursing role for 20 years and was not coping with the recent introduction of a new computer system. Having been in nursing for a long time, Jean was not open to being challenged on her practice or behaviours. She was being rude to younger staff and not following instructions from anyone.

When working with someone like John, we explore the current situation with them and identify key questions that need to be addressed. The common questions we ask are:

  • Where does he want to start? (what are the key problems he wants to address?)
  • What process is best to follow? (i.e. is this a performance or disciplinary issue?)
  • Is it worth trying to address the problem or has it gone too far?
  • Will it create low morale with the rest of the team if he challenges the behaviour?
  • What has been tried so far?

Firstly, there is a need to understand Jean’s history within the organisation. Part of this is unbundling each issue and identifying the reasons why Jean is behaving in this way and what the reward is for her doing so.

From this comes a plan, which we will either support John in implementing himself or take the lead. Depending on the answers, a possible outcome could be performance management and extra training for Jean on the new computer system. John and Jean may have purely got off on the wrong foot.

Scenario 2: Sue’s sick child dilemma

Sue was new to the organisation and has just discovered that her youngest child has an illness that will require her to take time off work. As yet the diagnosis has not been confirmed, and she is worried. It is beginning to affect her work as she is often late and needing to take time off to attend specialist appointments.

The questions for Sue are:

  • I’m new in a role, will I be supported?
  • How much sick leave do I have?
  • My child needs me, and I need to put them first, but will my employer be understanding?

Our role in this situation is to work with both the employer and the employee in finding a ‘win-win’ solution. This may be to give Sue unpaid ‘time-out’ until a diagnosis is confirmed. Once this is established, both parties can develop a plan. This may involve a re-negotiation of the terms and conditions of employment, which would be reviewed at an agreed time. The employer then has flexibility and money to cover the role.

Each situation that we are involved in has a number of possible outcomes. Good ‘win-win’ solutions are generated when both employees and employers address issues early and openly. Apart from the formal employment agreements, organisational policies and procedures, answers usually lie in the culture of the organisation and the way people treat each other. Central to the message is developing high-performing cultures that deliver to the organisation’s goals and the individual’s desire for job satisfaction.

If you have a question or would like to know more about best practice on a human resource management issue, please email the College of Nurses office – admin@nurse.org.nz – and we will respond to the most common issues in future articles and posts. Please don’t send confidential information. If you have a major issue or concern about your employment or a human resource management issue, please seek appropriate advice. 

Taima Campbell is co-chair of the College of Nurses Aotearoa, former director of nursing for Auckland District Health Board, and a health consultant