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Effective Counseling Sessions with Employees: A Supervisor's Guide

Why Conduct Counseling Sessions?

Supervisors often avoid conducting counseling sessions with employees because the supervisors anticipate, sometimes correctly, that the session will be personally unpleasant. Most individuals simply do not enjoy confronting other individuals with judgments about performance. As is true of most people, supervisors have a need to be liked by members of the social groups with which they are associated. Counseling can disrupt the personal relationships which such groups represent. The supervisor often anticipates that this will occur, imagining that the subordinate will react to the session with hostility, or withdraw during the interview into a shell and thereafter ignore the supervisor's presence except when given direct orders. Such reactions by subordinates are not uncommon, and, in fear of that, the supervisor may avoid the discussion altogether.

Avoiding the discussion, however, will only result in the problem and the potential confrontation becoming worse. Counseling is an indispensable aspect of a supervisor's job which, if accomplished effectively, can resolve problems in a positive manner and ultimately help to strengthen the relationship between the supervisor and the subordinate.

It would be dishonest to assure any supervisor that there are techniques which will avoid the unpleasant aspects of counseling in every case. Like any aspect of supervision, counseling involves authority over and responsibility for the actions of other employees. It is precisely this authority over others' behavior that produces the potential conflict; however, such conflict can be minimized.

The weeks assignment is a written counseling session in which students must demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the skills, techniques, resources, and other information taught within the class and apply this knowledge to an employee counseling session (must be fictitious). To ensure maximum points, please adhere to the guidelines set forth below.

Please select any one of the following scenarios as the situation for your written counseling session. 

1.Falls asleep on the job.  Your employee is a student attending college at night with 3 kids and a wife at home.  He is a production assistant responsible for layout and print copy for the local newspaper.

2.Bad breath & body odor.  Your employee is an aging man who is the assistant manager in the customer service department.  He has been with the organization for over 25 years.

3.Coming down with memory loss.  Your employee is 37 years old who has recently undergone radiation therapy for breast cancer.  She is responsible for medical records and tracking pharmaceutical prescriptions at the local hospital.

Challenges Faced by Supervisors During Counseling Sessions

Your written counseling session must include the following:

(Please address in paragraph form)

 I.  A written analysis of the problem presented:

               Why is the situation a problem?

What steps should have been taken to remediate the situation before reaching this level?

Does the employee know what is supposed to be done and by when?

Does the employee have:

the information needed to do the job?

the skills needed to do the job?

the resources needed to do the job?

Have I adequately defined job performance expectations?

Does the problem have an adverse effect on:

the employee?

the co-workers/team?

the unit?

the agency?

myself as a supervisor?

Are any obstacles beyond the employee’s control getting in the way?

Have I been inadvertently rewarding poor performance by my silence or behavior?

Is anyone else exhibiting the same problem?

Is there a pattern with this employee?

After addressing the above issues, it is then necessary for you to include:

II. A follow-up counseling memo that would be given to the employee after the counseling session.

Generally, a memo is both appropriate and necessary when: 1) previous counseling has failed to result in improvement; 2) you do not have confidence that the employee will correct the improper behavior without further encouragement; 3) the seriousness of the situation requires documentation that the session was held; and/or, 4) a multi-part plan for improvement was discussed during the session and the memo serves as written confirmation and a reminder of the plan.

When writing the counseling memo, the following guidelines should be followed:

1.Write the memo to the employee. 

2.Be concise and clear.

3.The memo is a summary of your counseling session. Do not include other matters in the memo which were not discussed during the session.

4.Include the following sections: Do not characterize the memo as discipline or as a penalty.

a.A statement of the reason for and the date, time and place of the meeting. (Be as complete as possible in describing the problem.)

b.The employee's response to your concerns. This is important as it demonstrates to the employee that you were actually listening during the counseling session.

c.The manner in which the employee will seek to improve performance.

d.Provisions for follow-up consultations.

5.The tone of the memo should be supportive and factual. Do not write it in a punitive or derogatory manner.

6.Show on the memo the names of those persons who will receive a copy of the memo. Include personal history folder.

7.The memo should be correct memo form.

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