Dealing with Challenging Staff

Sooner or later just about every business will face a challenging staff member. Staffing problems can be extraordinarily costly; they can cause high staff turnover, lost customers and a significant decrease in productivity. In addition to the high financial costs, there can also be exceptionally high emotional costs; managers with staffing challenges often experience high stress levels, frustration, burnout and in extreme cases depression.

Many managers often feel powerless when it comes to managing staffing issues. A vast number of employers live in fear of the employment court and high pay-outs, so instead of resolving it, they do nothing about the problem. This does not need to be the case. With the right attention, the risks can be dramatically reduced.

Human beings are complex, so much of the trouble stems from not really understanding the problem and hence not knowing how to solve it. Staffing problems can be caused by poor training, poor communication, mental illness, burnout, a brain injury, toxic behaviour such as bullying, and much more.

Half the battle is understanding what the problem really is. Take one example of a girl who was working in a warehouse. She did almost nothing all day. The managers thought she was a terrible employee. We talked to her about why she wasn’t performing well. She didn’t really know. We asked her about the effects the Canterbury earthquakes had on her; she said they were significant - she had anxiety. She was working at the very back of the warehouse where there were no exits. All we did was move her from the back of the warehouse to the front near an exit and she became one of the best employees the company had. By moving someone a couple of hundred feet the company saved $10-20,000. The important part was to truly understand what was behind the problematic behaviour.

In another situation, we came across a staff member who was bullying another staff member very badly. This person had several performance reviews and many attempts were made to change the negative behaviour. When we talked to this person we soon came to the realisation that the bully had no insight into their behaviour or the harm it was causing. Often in the workplace people such as this are encouraged to change. For whatever reason, this person had the inability to take another person’s point of view. We suggested that this person could not be turned around and that the company exit this person. They were nervous at first but eventually they agreed. The company made the right decision. After the bully left it came to light that they had a lot more negative behaviours that no one had spoken about. It also came to light that several previous employers had similar problems.

It is vital that an employer knows the difference between changeable, treatable and manageable behaviour and someone who will not change.

Employers need to be empowered to resolve staffing issues rather than letting them fester under the surface. Not only will this improve the employer’s wellbeing but it will benefit all the other staff in the workforce.

Michael Hempseed is offering an ODI Leadership Masterclass in Christchurch on June 21 2017 on Managing Difficult Staff.  Follow this link for more information and to register.