How to manage difficult staff

Most managers will have come across a high-maintenance employee,
writes Nathalie Towner. These people can
be difficult to manage for any number of reasons but if you fail to
deal with their behaviour it will have a negative impact on the
whole team. They may have missed out on a promotion and be
expressing their frustration or simply be lacking in
self-awareness. Whatever the reason, you as the manager will have
to deal with the fallout.

Intervene early
High-maintenance individuals can express themselves in many ways
but one thing they will have in common is being difficult to
manage. They will take up a lot of your time and can wreak havoc
with your team. Team members may even choose to leave rather than
put up with their behaviour. Social workers already experience high
levels of stress in their work and a problem colleague could be one
step too far. Ben Wilmott, employee relations adviser for the
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says: “How you
deal with a high-maintenance employee is down to their personality
and why they are behaving like this in the first place. It’s
important to intervene early, be consistent in your response and
not to let the problem escalate.”

What’s the problem?

“Try to understand what makes them tick and what their issue is,”
recommends Pauline Moignard, freelance human resources consultant
specialising in social care. Perhaps you can make their job more
interesting so they gain a sense of responsibility and self-worth.
Sometimes the issues are more deep-rooted. Moignard says: “If
you’re new to the team and feel they’re not performing for you it
could be because they went for your job.” Or they could simply be
sinking under an enormous caseload and be lashing out
inappropriately as a result.

Tackle the issue
“Managers need to have regular conversations with their
staff outside the formal appraisal process,” says Wilmott.
Supervision time is a good chance to informally talk about why they
are behaving in a certain way. Ask them how they are finding their
work and then you can raise any issues. You could point out that it
is unfair that you have to spend so much time dealing with them. It
is natural to want to avoid confrontation but their behaviour will
not just be affecting you but the rest of the team and possibly
their clients.

Keep a log book
If you plan to confront someone with their bad behaviour it is
worth keeping a log or a diary of the incidents. Note each time
they are late for clients or rude to a colleague or just difficult.
People forget very quickly, particularly if they are not even aware
that their behaviour is causing problems. “It’s good to have
evidence and to be able to say what they did on what day,” says
Wilmott. “They may genuinely not realise that they have done
anything wrong or have forgotten the incidents.”

Keep it informal
Moignard recommends instigating formal procedures only if
the behaviour has become intolerable. Otherwise she suggests
steering clear of the heavy-handed approach. She says: “It’s
important to be non-confrontational as it will be impossible to
move the relationship forward if you’ve gone in at loggerheads.”
You still need to stand your ground, though, and not let it drag
on. “Go to human resources as they will have a strategy to
recommend,” Moignard says. “I know one social services manager who
spent two years making arrangements around an individual and then
it suddenly broke down because of one small incident.”

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