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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How to Deal with a Problem Employee, Part Two

Problems with an employee’s soft skills – such as a bad attitude - can be hard for employers to address.  As an employment law attorney, I know that the best first line of defense against a toxic employee eroding away your business is clear office policies, job descriptions and performance evaluation procedures. 

Office policies and job descriptions should be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure expectations are relevant within the context of your changing business needs.  Policies should be shared with employees during the onboarding process and easily available for reference at any time.   

Part one of my series “How to Deal with a Problem Employee” offered tips on how to spot a problem employee that may be toxic to your workplace.  Part Two addresses how to take action while minimizing additional damage.

First, take a step back and think about specific ways the problem employee is negatively impacting your business.  Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Is the person's bad attitude alienating customers?

  • Are other employees afraid to voice their opinions around this employee?

  • Are deadlines being missed due to this employee’s procrastination, poor attendance or overall apathy?

Next, determine how the lack of soft skills is symptomatic of the more tangible problems that should be addressed.  If a problem employee lacks a good work ethic and is generally disrespectful of authority, management needs to set clear expectations regarding the tasks that need to be accomplished on a daily (or hourly) basis.  Managers will get better results when focusing on measurable goals, such as team meeting attendance, sales goals, customer satisfaction and absenteeism, rather than a general lack of professionalism.  Expectations should be clearly outlined in written form, such as a job description.    

Sitting down to address the problem employee directly can be stressful for both the manager and the employee.   Helpful tips on how to successfully navigate through tough conversations about performance include:

  • Pick a private setting where the conversation cannot be overheard by coworkers, such as a conference room with a door

  • Be respectful. 

  • Be specific about the goals the employee needs to meet.  Ambiguity will not get the results you’re looking for.

  • Listen to feedback, answer questions, but stay focused on the performance goals.

  • Be patient and willing to listen.  The employee may be blowing off steam… or providing valuable insights into inefficient procedures or workloads that need to be addressed.  If the employee is faced with a chronic problem, ask him or her for ideas on how to proactively solve the problem moving forward. 

  • Accurately set expectations for the next steps.  Review the office policies and procedures and point out the time increments between performance reviews or trigger events. 

Office policies and procedures play a crucial role throughout all phases of dealing with a problem employee.  The disciplinary process and escalation path should be clearly outlined, including escalating steps such as verbal and written warnings.  Managers should strictly adhere to office protocol when addressing problem employees, and be sure to document every step of the process.  Documentation, such as writing down the time and dates of tardiness and absenteeism, should be shared with employees during formal performance reviews and signed by both the employee and the manager.  

In short, getting fired should never come as a surprise if the company adheres to the correct protocol.  Want an ounce of prevention? Incorporate a probationary period for new hires into your policies.  This will not safeguard you against all lawsuits, but probationary employees have fewer rights than full time employees and this trial period will help you better assess soft skills before hiring a full time employee.     

Are you ready to proactively minimize the damage problem employees can cause by creating stronger office policies?  Contact employment law attorney Megan Pearson today at at mpearson@smithwelchlaw.com or call 770-957-3937.

 

Any representations regarding the law in this Blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


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