Businesspeople in a meeting

As a manager, from time to time you’ll be faced with difficult or awkward questions from your employees. These can cover a wide and surprising range of topics, such as financial problems, working conditions in the office, pay rises, and even pay cuts.

Clare Greechan from debt experts Trust Deed Scotland looks at potential questions an employee can pose, and how best to answer them in a tactful and supportive manner.

1. I’m not happy with the way you/another colleague speaks to me – is that something we can work on?

The first thing you should appreciate is that employees have chosen to be honest with you about how they feel. Part of your job as a manager is to support your team and ensure they can work to the best of their abilities, so you should listen carefully to your employees’ issues and do what you can to address them.

2. I’m feeling undervalued and it’s affecting my self-esteem – can we get more feedback on our work?

Giving positive feedback when something is done well is just as important as dispensing constructive criticism if something is done wrong. You should also learn to appreciate the individual skills and qualities of your employees; this is a sure-fire way to boost morale and make everyone feel that they are valued.

3. I’m uncomfortable with direct confrontation. Is there a more anonymous way of expressing some thoughts I have about the workplace?

Company surveys are a great way for employees to express any issues they may have without direct confrontation. This can also give you a feel for general improvements which need to be made, or areas in which your company is doing well.

4. Would I be able to take a sabbatical?

A sabbatical involves taking (normally unpaid) time off so that someone can do other paid work, travel, volunteer, etc. This may not always be feasible, but you should certainly consider it, as your employee could return with new skills to apply in their role. The time away could also encourage a renewed passion for their job when they come back.

5. Can you help me with a financial problem?

An employee sharing something difficult with you such as a financial problem is a sign that they trust you and value your support. The stress of a financial problem will also almost certainly be affecting both their mental health and their work. If you have an Employee Assistance Program or something similar, you should direct them towards it.

6. Can I take a pay cut?

It’s unusual, but it can happen. If an employee has been working overtime and is feeling overworked, they may ask for a pay cut and be happy to work fewer hours. This can also be linked to a demotion, if a worker is finding their role too much to cope with and would like something a little easier.

7. Can I have a pay rise?

It’s quite common for an employee to request a pay rise at some point. The most important thing is to be consistent and fair across the board, and treat each employee equally. If you genuinely can’t afford it, ensure you explain this to them. If you can, and think they deserve it for their good work, then you should definitely consider it – it’s a great way to keep them at your company and emphasise the fact you value their efforts.

8. Is there anything you can do about the noise level in the office?

Constantly having to filter out background noise can take its toll on someone’s productivity. If you have an open-plan office, perhaps invest in some carpets or rugs for hard floors, and generally decrease the amount of hard surfaces, as this will bring the noise level down. You should also ensure that employees have access to quiet rooms for meetings, and assign certain areas of the office to workers who have to be on the phone more than others.

9. I’m feeling pressured to be contactable outside of office hours. Can you set some clear boundaries?

Many people feel pressured to be available via email after-hours and even at weekends; this can stress them out and make it difficult for them to separate their work life and home life. Make sure you tell your team when they need to be contactable and when they can be off-grid.

10. I’m not always sure of what’s happening with our current project. Could you try to clarify things a little more?

You need to be absolutely clear on deadlines for projects, which tasks have been assigned to each employee, and who is responsible for what. If an employee asks for clarification on their responsibilities, you should take this as a positive thing, as they are looking to focus properly on their tasks and utilize their skills effectively.