Specialised HR Solutions, Tania De Bruler

Nearly every manager I’ve ever consulted or coached has told me about having at least one employee who’s not cutting the mustard. It has become a part of every manager’s daily life, they are having to deal with a least one employee that is difficult to manage, isn’t performing well in the role, does not get on well with colleagues, or never seems to get it in terms of what they are expected to do.

Many managers find that this employee takes up more of their time than all the other employees put together. Zapping their energy and challenging their every will.

Here are a few things that any your managers can do when dealing with this difficult employee:

1. Take out the emotion
Try and take a step back and breathe. The problem can be remedied, and it’s having that end in sight and the knowing this problem will go away. Either by the individual changing their behaviour or they won’t. If they won’t then it’s sometimes easier to deal with as you know it’s not because of you, it’s purely because they can’t or they choose not to. Either way, it cannot be sustained. You cannot keep your focus off your other direct reports and putting all your energy and emotion into this one employee, it’s not sustainable in the long term.

2. Listen carefully
Our everyday work lives distract us away from what is going on under our noses. Often, it is human nature to try and ignore the little things and concentrate on the project at hand or current objective. However, some of the best managers will actively look to improve the situation, help the individual to perform better and change, seeking out an understanding of where these behaviours or performance levels have come from. Once you have this knowledge, it becomes easier to add mechanisms to help the changes to take place. Having an open door policy or just being that ear for that employees can sometimes be that saving grace. You can sometimes offer your point of view, or a solution for the individual if it involves another colleague.

3. Always give feedback
It’s all to easy for managers to get together and talk about colleagues that are not performing well and rarely giving feedback to the individual, giving them the opportunity to change. But is that what we want? Do those conversations need to go on for years and years until resolved? How are those conversations impacting on the other manager and the way they manage their team? So it comes to a head one day after all this time, and the manager has thrown the towel in – ‘it’s them or me’ – goes through their head. Did this need to happen? Of course, giving feedback is difficult for the first few 10 times, but once you’ve done it once, it starts to become easier. Some individuals are just not aware. And you live in hope that they will take on board the feedback about their behaviour/conduct and want to remedy the situation, and nine times out of ten they will. Remember: feedback must contain the specific information that the individual will need in order to remedy their behaviour.

4. Always record meetings and conversations
Do your level best to record conversations and meetings – key points relating to anything you address with the individual. If you don’t it will take a HR professional longer to help you conclude the case. You cannot progress to any dismissal stage unless there are records of employee’s being feedback concerns at an informal stage. Imagine if you were a manager inheriting a problem employee and they came with no records of the issues being dealt with. You would have to start at the beginning with this employee. This will ultimately impact on morale in your current team, upsetting the balance and cause under performance. Good managers will know that any record is better than no record. It is essential.

5. Be consistent with how you treat all employees.
If you have already addressed a particular behaviour, you cannot decide it’s now ok to accept it. If you tell one employee they cannot act a certain way, then you must be confident to tell another they can’t too. Employees will get confused, but also it will demonstrate that you are not a competent manager and your direct reports will have less respect for you than you would like, making it harder for you to manage them. Only set the expectations you are willing to review, feedback on and accept.

6. It would be unfair for them not to be made aware of any consequences
All too often managers address the issue, but forget to set a review period and remind the employee of what will happen in the long term. This can sometimes be because of the manager being in-experienced or of fear that the individual may not respond well. Warnings of next steps can very often help the individual to change their course. If they are not well informed, when you do get into a formal process, the individual could feel they have been unfairly treated, and claim they have been ill-informed, making the formal process even harder for you to manage. Advising an employee that their behaviour could impact on their opportunities in the business, or having a formal warning is absolutely fine.

7. Follow due process
Most businesses have either employee handbooks or HR policies. If you don’t have either, then you must get in touch with a HR professional, such as an independent HR Consultant, that can swiftly put these in place for you. Failure to have a process or follow ACAS, could put you in a very insecure position if the individual was dismissed or had warnings they felt were not warranted. A HR professional will ensure you have all the facts, have everything you need at every part of the process to enable you to get to the position where you can dismiss them when the time comes.

8. Don’t show a lack of respect to the employee
Talking about the employee to colleagues and other managers is not going to help the situation. Other colleagues will start to lose trust in you and it could damage your reputation. Good managers do not try and damage an employee’s reputation. They show respect to the colleague by keeping it confidential. Do it and you will quickly see how it changes the culture in the workplace and not for the good.

9. Try and keep an open mind
Being a good manager also means reminding yourself this situation could resolve itself or it may not. Never prejudge as it could impact on how you treat the employee. Try and remember if you keep an open mind and you follow due process and it doesn’t work out well for the employee, then you have done your best and what you set out to do.

10. Making the decision to dismiss the employee
It’s never easy to dismiss someone. It’s a decision you also don’t want to make easily. Ensure you have crossed all T’s and dotted all I’s before this point. Make the decision and stick to it. Don’t dither, as it will make the process harder for yourself. Book out time to prepare for the disciplinary meeting and be emotionally ready for the meeting. Ensure you know the agenda for the meeting and you know how it will flow and what is expected of you. This will help to reduce your anxiety levels. It takes a strong manager to dismiss someone. And when it’s all over, the weight off your shoulders is indescribable.

If you find you are at the point when the employee as turned enough corners for the dismissal not to take place. Be brave and try and accept that the employee wants to stay, wants to continue to change and try and forget about the process, start to re-build the relationship and your days will start to become easier again.

If any of this feels very close to home, don’t hesitate to talk it over with a HR professional. Sometimes they can give you the answers you need to go forward.

Contact me for any reassurance if you have already started managing a similar situation: Tania De Bruler, Tel: 01905 317537 / Email: hello@specialisedhr.co.uk