|You know that person—the employee who always arrives late, leaves early, or frequently calls in “sick.” Forty-four percent of employees say they have worked with co-workers who have abused workplace rules and/or regulations, according to a recent study by the Employment Law Alliance. This growing trend of “difficult employees” raises a question: What options are available for business owners or human resource professionals when dealing with a difficult employee?|
Management is wise to quickly address a difficult employee, experts say, since such negativism is contagious and can quickly impact the entire office staff. If the actions and/or attitudes of a negative employee are not adequately addressed, they can develop into a company-wide morale issue.
The attributes and behaviors that classify a “difficult employee” are numerous. A few characteristics include:
Business owners or supervisors of an employee who exudes this type of poor work ethic should discuss the actions or behaviors with the employee as soon as they notice the problem. Unscheduled absenteeism costs companies an estimated $850,000 per year, according to the 2006 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey. Instances of poor performance, whether manifested in the form of absences, insubordination, tardiness, or problematic behavior with other employees, may intensify or multiply if not addressed at the onset of the problem. However, if management follows proper procedures, future incidents can be prevented.
Upon compiling the necessary documentation, supervisors should initiate an in-person meeting with the employee to discuss all of the issues at hand. The conversation should be non-confrontational and focused strictly on the documented performance problems.
The manager should reiterate the company’s philosophy of having an open-door policy and highlight that the intention of the meeting is to have a positive discussion in which both the employee and the employer can openly review issues and develop proactive solutions. It is wise to have an office manager or HR executive attend the meeting.
During the meeting, management should solicit feedback from the employee to determine his/her recommendations for resolving the problem. Based on the discussion, an action plan should be developed that includes tangible expectations, specific measurable goals, a strategy and an estimated deadline for meeting those goals. Also, a timetable should be established for a follow-up meeting with the employee to review if he/she met the established goals.
Additional proactive measures can be taken to mitigate potential employee behavioral problems, including a clearly written and up-to-date employee handbook that should be reviewed with all employees upon hire. The company’s policies and procedures should highlight the vacation and sick-day policies, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, and what types of behavior may lead to disciplinary measures.
Company policies also must clearly communicate to employees that actions constituting or promoting a hostile work environment will not be tolerated. When both managers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities, the potential for discord is greatly reduced. Furthermore, if a company mandates compliance, it can help promote consistent treatment of all employees. Management must consistently follow through with appropriate discipline when such actions occur.
Business owners should also conduct annual employee-performance evaluations. While 95 percent of companies regularly conduct performance reviews, only 11 percent indicate that they are very satisfied with the current process, according to a study by the Aberdeen Group. During the evaluation, goals and objectives should be discussed to ensure that each employee is aware of all of the requirements of their job description. The descriptions should contain a clearly defined matrix for performance for each position at the company. The matrix should discuss employee responsibilities, expectations, and best practices that are specific and measurable for each position.
Enforcement of corporate policies and management of behavior can contribute to either a decrease or increase in negative employee actions. To create a fair and appropriate corporate culture, business owners need to consider implementing regular internal management-training classes.
These training programs should include components on appropriate management behavior and expectations, methods for handling difficult employee situations, and company policies and procedures. The lessons learned from these classes can provide managers with guidance on preventing harassment in the workplace, establishing and enforcing proper procedures for terminating and disciplining employees, promoting diversity, and complying with employment laws. Regular training can also help reduce the risk of liability in the workplace and resulting lawsuits, while increasing productivity and overall employee satisfaction.
An employee’s resistance, unwillingness or the inability to change despite management addressing the situation is grounds for further review of the circumstances. To reduce the risk of liability, managers should document employee behaviors, evaluations and warnings with specific incidents that include the date of such infractions, the actions management took to alert the employee and the outcome of any initial intervention. In extreme situations, termination of the employee may be necessary.
During the termination meeting, the supervisor should take steps to alleviate problematic scenarios by fully explaining the guidelines for determining the decision. The discussion should include detailed information about the ongoing pattern of disruptive behavior, the excessive absenteeism, the quality of work and any other issues. The employee’s personnel file should include accounts of specific incidences of poor performance, summaries of meetings held with the employee and other company-initiated efforts to correct the behavior, as well as formal warnings of probation or dismissal.
In the end, dealing with a difficult employee requires a large dose of patience. Managers need to communicate consistently with a difficult employee about specific areas for improvement, offer ongoing feedback as to whether change has occurred, and document these conversations for the employee’s permanent file. A manager who discharges a poor performer without offering constructive feedback and documentation runs the risk that the employee may react with hostility or through legal action.
While it is never ideal to have a difficult employee on your staff, the tips outlined above can assist business owners and managers in positively and decisively dealing with problematic employees. Good management requires the recognition of persistent problems and the proper handling of inappropriate behavior so that any negative impact is minimized. Dealt with correctly, a difficult employee can be turned into a productive staff member, or at the very least, her/his negative impact can be minimized.