5 First Steps to Take With a Problem Employee - performHR

Barring a few specific and clear reasons for instant dismissal, the first instinct in dealing with difficult employees shouldn’t be to fire them. First, it’s important to look a little closer at what might be going on both with the employee and with the wider organisation. Here are five important steps to take first with any problem employee.

Sit down and listen

It sounds simple, but this initial step is often left out – yet can provide a great level of insight with many problematic employees. Perhaps there’s something specific impacting the employee’s ability to do work and they’re uncertain about bringing it up. Perhaps they’re being bullied or harassed, or have had something serious happen at home that they’re in the middle of processing. They may be struggling with a new project or task. Asking the employee how they’re going and whether they need support can be particularly important for employees who were previously performing well in their role.

Document concerns over time

Documentation is a key aspect in successfully managing difficult employees. This gives you a clear record of problematic behaviour and incidents, provides evidence for any future decisions, and also helps you to distance yourself from the emotion of the issue. Quite often managers will let things slide as time goes on as each smaller problem doesn’t seem like such a big deal – however documenting this over time can show a larger pattern of poor behaviour or performance that could also be affecting other employees.

Provide clear feedback

The next step is to sit down with the employee and address your concerns with them clearly, providing specific examples from your documentation. Yes – it can be a difficult and awkward step, but it’s better than the alternative of thinking the employee should just realise and know what the problem is. Quite often, having a friendly yet frank conversation about their behaviour or performance is enough to alert them to the problem and work on shifting their approach.

Set expectations

We all need objectives to work towards, and the process of a behaviour or performance change is no different. Consider phrasing such as, “I really think you can turn this situation around, and here are some ways to help with this. If you can/can’t achieve ____ by ____, then the next step will be to ___.”

Whether you use the ‘carrot’ or the ‘stick’ approach can depend on the employee. For example, someone who has lost morale due to feeling unrecognised might respond well to the end goal of a coveted team position, while someone who’s been exhibiting long-term attitude problems might respond to the consequence of being put on warning or dismissed. Our HR specialists find that getting to know the employee’s specific goals and challenges helps to set these expectations as part of effective strategic human resource management.

Look at the organisation’s wider culture and processes

It’s incredibly important to also zoom out on your organisation’s people practices and human resource strategy. Is morale a wider issue, or are other employees showing signs of being held back or frustrated? If you do get the sense that your culture or HR processes could use a closer look, consider speaking with performHR about a custom HR strategy session. This tried and tested process can help to identify weaknesses and opportunities in your HR strategy to better align with your overall business objectives. Get in touch today to get started.

“The first instinct in dealing with difficult employees shouldn’t be to fire them”

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