Are you relieved when a staff member goes on holiday?

When a member of your staff takes a holiday, do you feel like you’re the one having a break? While they’re away, does your time at work feel less stressed? Do things run more smoothly? Is being at work just more enjoyable? And does the workplace in general seem lighter? Do the people around you seem more contented, even though they’re taking on the workload of their vacationing associate?


That can’t be right.

Well it’s not. And you need to do something about it. Otherwise, you’re effectively paying someone to sabotage your business. But how do you fix it?

How to deal with employees that are damaging your business

Here’s what you don’t do:

  • Tell them everyone hates working with them
  • Hand them a P45
  • Any other knee-jerk reaction

Almost certainly the individual concerned won’t realise they’ve become a problem. From where they sit, they fill an essential role. Remember, they probably do; if they don’t, why is there a job for them?

Indeed the work they perform may well be exemplary, even a key component of the business. But in some way, what was once a useful and helpful member of your team has slid into undesirable practices or habits that are impacting on their co-workers in a negative, destructive way.

Your first job is to lead them to a place where they can see that for themselves. That requires identifying the issues, it requires gathering evidence, and it requires detailed planning of how these issues will be brought up.

It also requires you to understand that you don’t need to go through this alone. Seek out the advice of at least one person with appropriate qualifications and/or experience: perhaps this will be a former boss, or a business colleague, or someone in a networking group.

The function of this person or persons isn’t to tell you what to do, it’s to act as a sounding board; a filter for the swirl of thoughts and emotions you’ll be dealing with.

Identify the root causes of the problems

With some support in place, the next thing is identify exactly what is causing the problem(s). Don’t expect an obvious smoking gun; it’s more likely to be death by a thousand cuts.

  • It could be tone of voice. Or body language.
  • It could be a quick temper. Or slow burning passive aggressiveness.
  • It could be irritability when approached. Or a reluctance to support others.

Observation is key. It may be that the whole team feels the same way, it may be just be a few of them, or it may be only one person is directly affected, but there’s a ripple effect.

Whatever it is, make notes. Don’t just log the behaviour, record the effect.

Record the effects their behaviour has on other team members

This could be turning away, or sighing, or rolling eyes, or gritting teeth, or face-pulling, or blushing or a clipped response. Whatever the effect(s) on the rest of the team, you need to compile examples of how people react to the disruptive behaviour. When you bring the issue up with the individual causing the reaction(s), they will – understandably – expect illustrative examples.

Having identified how the individual unsettles their colleagues, and how the rest of the team reacts, turn your attention to what the individual does well. There must be a few things, otherwise you’d have had cause to speak to them sooner.

Note their strengths and positive contributions

What are their strengths? What are their skills? Make a list of all the things you like, respect, admire and value about them. And then note examples of those things, just as you did when you compiled information about the negative aspects of their time in the workplace.

Balance is vital.

Also consider what you believe to be important to them about their role in the workplace. When do they seem happiest at work? What are their ambitions? Do you know what they want to achieve? If you don’t know, you should.

Having the conversation

Once you have completed that preparation, it’s time to have the conversation. But don’t dread this talk. The discussion you’re about to have is about improving life at work (and perhaps outside) for you, for them, and for the others you work with. This conversation is a good thing. The colleague may not see it that way at first – it’s natural to be defensive – but it’s important that you go in to this meeting with that positive mindset; you’re there to help.

But what do you say?

Thank them for attending the meeting. Explain that you want to discuss a few issues that you think they are unaware of, and that those issues may be interfering with the effectiveness of the team. Describe the issue(s), giving relevant examples.

Perhaps sometime in the previous week you observed them talking to a colleague using a sharp tone of voice. You should give an account of the incident, and describe the effect on the colleague that you witnessed.

Their reaction is likely to be denial. This is normal; the chances are this will be the first time they’ve received this type of feedback, and in all probability, the behaviour you just described is something they would not approve of in someone else.

Regardless of the robustness of their defence, it is important for you to remain calm. Remind them that you believe they are unaware of the impact of their actions.

They may suggest this is a one-off, an anomaly. And this is why you need to have gathered a body of evidence. Take them through the other examples you have taken note of.

Give the employee time to mend their ways

Now that you’ve given them your feedback, you need to give them time to absorb this new information. Remember this is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

Some people will get it straight away or very quickly, others will need to catch themselves engaged in the actions you described to them. But whatever the time period, keep on top of things; a series of conversations may be necessary, but the important message the individual must understand is that the behaviour/actions you described have no place at work.

It is possible for a team member to shift their behaviour, but should they fail to take advantage of the opportunity, and there has to be a parting of the ways, you will know you did all you could to find a solution that improved the working environment of all concerned.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Sue Ingram, author of ‘Fire Well, how to fire staff so they thank you’ and founder of Converse Well, a training company which provides workshops for managers in how and what to say when managing and firing staff. Sue has spent over 27 years working in HR and related fields, and is an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University where her workshop forms part of their International MBA program.

More help on managing and motivating staff

For more tips and ideas on how to hire, motivate and keep great staff, read these guides;

And for guidance on other employment issues, try some of ByteStart’s other guides;

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