Dealing with Difficult Staff

Dealing with Difficult Staff
Dealing with difficult staff tends to fall into two categories, performance and conduct.

Performance Management is largely dealt with here, but for more serious, persistent problems see below.
Conduct issues are often petty repetitive items. The most common example of this is attendance. Most places of work will have attendance norms established, that enter within the province of human resources. Where attendance becomes an issue, then it must be seen to be dealt with. If it is not, what incentive is there for other staff to turn up regularly? There are two commonly used approaches to this.

First, there is the 'return to work interview'. All staff must have one of these on their return after an absence, no matter how short that absence is. The fact that they know they are being 'watched' is often deterrent enough.

In the case of a known 'workhorse' the interview may well take the form of, 'Are you sure you are all right to come back?'

Secondly, there is a more structured approach designed to differentiate between the frequent 'sickie' thrower and the genuinely ill. This is known as the Bradford Factor.

The calculation is based on this: number of times absent (n), multiplied by the number of times absent (n), multiplied by the total number of days absent (d), thus giving the formula n x n x d, which produces the Bradford Factor.

Take two examples. Example A is where an individual has been off 'sick' on seven separate occasions with a total of ten days absent. Using the formula this gives us 7x7x10, a total of 490. Example B is an individual who has had to undergo hospital treatment and recuperation lasting three months. In their case (a genuine absence) the factor would be 90 (1x1x90), clearly less than the frequent absentee. It is the former who needs managing. Most organisations which use this will set a threshold at which an intervention (such as seeing the company doctor) is needed.

For more serious matters managers may have to resort to formal procedures. These procedures and policies should be contained within any internal documents, such as staff handbooks - normally issued at induction. As with recruitment procedures great care will need to be taken to ensure that the procedures are followed correctly. Failure to do so can involve going to tribunals and the like.

Disciplinary Procedure

This is the procedure used for the more serious aspects of conduct issues. It should not be used for performance issues (see below). As ever, the detail will differ from employer to employer, but broad principles tend to be followed.

Stage one is normally referred to as an oral or verbal warning (even though it is recorded on file). In many cases, a stipulated period of notice - commonly 24 hours - must be given to the member of staff in question prior to the interview taking place. Similarly, there may well be a period of time after which the warning becomes 'spent', often six months or a year.

Stage two is a written warning. This is for more serious offences, or repeated behaviour, previously the subject of a verbal warning. Again, notice periods may apply. Additionally, the individual may be entitled, under official company policy, to have a witness present. This may be a colleague, or where applicable a union representative. Check before you act.

Stage three is dismissal. This is for further continued inappropriate behaviour, or, more commonly, acts of gross misconduct. Such acts - typically theft, physical assault, and so on - need to be stipulated within the policy for the sake of corporate consistency. Often, the alleged guilty party will be suspended on full pay pending the outcome of the hearing.

Capability Procedure (Competency Procedure)

The Capability Procedure (sometimes called the Competency Procedure) is the process used for matters of performance. Should performance issues not be able to be dealt with in the normal course of events, e.g. training, then a manager can invoke the capability procedure.

At the initial hearing (notice may be required etc) the manager needs to clearly state in writing what performance is unacceptable, and which steps have already been taken to attempt to rectify the shortfall. Furthermore, a plan for what final supportive actions will be put in place and over what timeframe needs to be stated and formalised. Often, the timeframe will mirror the member of staff's notice period.

At the end of the period in question it is possible that the individual's contract be terminated on the grounds of competency. Alternatively, where some progress is shown, the timeframe can be extended, not unlike as with a new recruit's probation period.
It would be hoped that situations could be dealt with prior to having recourse to the formal procedures outlined above. However, should it come to this the two crucial elements for all managers are evidence and transparency. Without evidence the case will not stand up. Unless the corporate procedures are followed, again, the case will fall down, albeit on a technicality. It is always advisable to act in tandem with human resource professionals should the need for formal process arise.

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