There always seems to be a few employees who require special handling and who take up a disproportionate amount of management time. HR practitioner Sheralyn Guy* outlines some constructive ways of dealing with the problem.

Is your business getting bogged down by one or two challenging employees who always seem to be grating on your mind? They might be someone who is constantly late for work, takes a few sick days without a real reason, or just asks for more than your typical employee.

Often it feels like they are continually stretching the boundaries and the result is that they end up not only weighing on your mind, but causing waves among the rest of your team. Often it is not until that challenging person leaves your organisation that you realise just what a drain they were.

Challenging employees can be bad for business. Unreliable team members can affect your ability to deliver customer service in the timeframes you want. They also pass on frustration to the rest of your team, as good workers strive to cover the poor performance of others.

This can affect your whole team’s motivation to do a good job and ultimately the quality of your products or services. Allowing one challenging employee to continue with their poor performance or behaviour could be likened to pouring water into a petrol tank – a very expensive mistake that will lead to major headaches to the owner.

Tackling the problem

But there are ways to take a challenging employee and turn them from a negative into an asset. Sometimes the problem is not with the employee but with the situation they find themselves in, and how they – and you – are dealing with it.

Here are some ideas for how to turn your challenging employee into an asset for your business.

Have clear boundaries and ground rules: How is someone supposed to behave and perform to your expectations, if you haven’t clearly explained those expectations in the first place? Be specific about your organisation’s ground rules, have them written down in your HR policy. These may include guidelines for employees on anything from take leave, what to do when sick from work, or how to treat co-workers. And make sure you have up-to-date position descriptions in place.

Be consistent about enforcing your ground rules: Employees may not always agree with your rules, but when they are enforced consistently they will feel secure in the knowledge that they know exactly what the boundaries are, and how you will react if they breach them. If there is more than one owner or manager in your business make sure you get on the same page about how you will manage these situations.

Role model the right behaviour: Actions speak louder than words so make sure you do what you expect of others. Do a self-check – do I always do what I say I am going to do? Do I finish the things I start? Am I on time for work and meetings? Let your behaviour set the tone for employees to follow.

Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations: Providing negative feedback can be one of the most daunting tasks for managers but trust me, you need to feel the fear and do it anyway. The outcome will certainly be more positive than leaving a problem to fester, especially if your negative feedback is delivered delicately and in partnership with positive feedback. If needed, get additional training in this area as it does require some specific skills. Make sure other people managers in your business also have the rights skills for delivering feedback diplomatically, and support them to have these conversations too.

Deal with it immediately: Even if it’s a little thing, politely but firmly deal with issue that arise, straightaway. This prevents small annoyances growing into big problems, or you having an unprofessional over-reaction to an annoying employee habit that may have been bugging you for a while.

Keep good records: Writing things down helps you to stay objective and also allows you to revisit the facts; this will help you to remember what action you took and assist you to meet your obligations, should you get to the stage where you need to take more serious action with a challenging employee.

Have a disciplinary process in place: Not only will this guide you on how to handle poor performance and behaviour; it is now a legal requirement for most organisations to have a disciplinary process in place. Make sure your process is clear, documented and available to all team members.

Know your rights and obligations: By staying informed about what you can and can’t do when dealing with challenging employees you will feel more confident and be well equipped to tackle the situation straightaway.

Taking action to turn around challenging employees will not only give you peace of mind, your whole team and your customers will appreciate your efforts. For any particularly tricky situations seek professional HR support. And look at improving al of your HR practices: good recruitment, induction and performance management processes will help you to avoid having challenging employees in the first place.

* Sheralyn Guy is director of HRhelp, a company that provides HR services to small to medium sized businesses.

Source : my business Magazine March 2010 issue

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