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How to deal with hard employees

Have you ever had to deal with an employee who seem to have a big potential but turned out otherwise? Are you a manager who is prone to seeing your employee provide explanation for their habitual tardiness? These are just some of the scenarios present in the workplace. The manager or leader of today have to be smarter to handle these types of problems. It would be helpful to classify the typical employee problems and their possible solutions.

  1. Attendance - This is your typical problems in absenteeism and tardiness that cripples the productivity of your team. This starts on small occasions but tends to repeat without getting noticed. It can snowball to a habit that becomes difficult to address.

  2. Behaviour / Conduct - These are you problems relating to proper conduct in the workplace, attitude problems, negligence and violation of company rules and regulations. This could be escalate as being a "difficult" co-employee and subordinate.

  3. Performance - This is one of the toughest problems of managers in ensuring that performance of their employees are sustained over a long period of time. Likewise, the challenge of increasing the level of performance of an average performer. The toughest of course would be those considered "non-performer"

Given these three types of employee problems, what are the possible ways of dealing with them. Here are six ways to deal with these challenges.

  1. Make sure to keep your code of conduct or employee handbook handy and updated. One of the reliable ways to encourage problem employees to look at their actions is to go back to the main source of the "rules". The handbook should likewise contain the necessary policy statements regarding their problems.

  2. Seriously apply the progressive discipline principle. This states that employee should be given the typical four stages of discipline :

  • Verbal Warning

  • Written Warning

  • Final Written Warning / Suspension ( outright)

  • Dismissal

It is not a guarantee that if these are implemented, the employee will improve or change his ways. The principle of progressive discipline is an issue of consistency. The application of this principle shows the employees the consequences of their actions. As a general rule, our behaviour is shaped by its consequences. I'm always reminded of the the "hot stove" rule that applies to employee discipline.

3. Document your actions. One of the best advice you can hear from a labor lawyer is to document your disciplinary processes. I truly believe this is one of the important approach for a manager. By making this approach, the manager ensures that the employee is made aware of the steps being taken. It is important also that the employee agrees with the action being taken.

4. Provide counselling to employees before coaching. One of the forgotten skills of a manager is listening. The tendency for some managers when faced with a problem employee is to deal with it immediately. The first step for the manager is to pay attention. This means that he has to observant of the actions and non-actions of his employees. By practicing listening, the manager increases his chances of understanding what is really the problem at hand.

5. Let the employee decide. Many employee problems seems to stem from their perception that something is impossible. Normally, employees would call the attention of his manager through his attendance problems. Or in some cases, the employee is misguided. If it concerns performance, the employee should have the final say on how to address the issue.

Here are some key questions to ask when it comes to performance problems

  • Is conduct or performance deliberate, blameworthy or careless?

  • Is incapability to perform coming from a lack of skill or ability?

  • Are there logical evidences of poor performance?

  • How long has performance been unsatisfactory?

The following guide questions will help the manager to organise an action plan on how to approach an employee's performance. As a manager myself in the past, I've used the Performance Improvement Plan. This approach uses close monitoring of an employee who has shown mediocre or utter non-performance. This should be set as a tool rather as punishment for the employee. Proper accountability should be established by the employee and the manager. Follow-up sessions is critical for this to succeed.

6. Don't forget to recognise. I believe that the employees would learn best on how to behave in the workplace through recognition and corrections. Most of the time the default of a manager is to correct. But seldom do we see a manager initiating a quick recognition for an employee. One thing i've learned in my experience is that a small effort or change should be recognised. These little efforts are coupled with the intention to reform their actions.

These are just some of the proven approaches I want to share with you as you become better in managing people. After exhausting all possible means to correct a problem employee, you have be prepared to let go. This has to be done in accordance with the law. We have to remember the requisites of due process according to our Philippine Labor Code

  • Right to be informed of the case against the employee ( aka. Show Cause or Notice to Explain )

  • Right to make representations before a decision is made ( aka. Disciplinary Hearing with Witness )

  • Right to be informed of decision after an explanation has been evaluated. ( aka. Notice of Decision )

On a final note for dealing with the various type of employee problems, we have to remember that dismissal is the final option. Our actions shall be treated as fair or unfair based on the principles that we used.

The determination of whether the dismissal was fair or unfair…. shall depend on whether in the circumstances the employer acted reasonably or unreasonably in treating it as a sufficient reason for dismissing the employee and that question shall be determined in accordance with equity and the substantial merits of the case.
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