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A Day-to-day HR Issue

Here’s an every day HR issue that whether we are business owners, managers, colleagues of another team-member, or just simply friends with another worker, will come across.

You come into work one morning and you inter-act with another team member on a job-related task. They are usually careful and attentive at work. They may or may not be a “leading light” in the workplace but they are certainly dependable and will complete their tasks while mindful of deadlines and outcomes.

Today however they seem to be “off their game”.

You ask if anything is wrong. They tell you that they had an argument with another team member about a personal issue, and the incident is affecting him/her. In fact he/she feels that it is so serious it is affecting his/her work.

What should you do? The normal efficiency of the team is obviously at risk. Do you see it as a personal matter and leave it alone? Do you advise the person you are with to sort it out with the other? Do you go to see the other person and see what you can do? Do you bring both together and mediate? Do you go up the ladder and tell the team leader there is an issue?

Some people think that an employee’s personal problems are never the concern of the organisation or the manager. However this is not always true. When personal issues affect performance and it declines, it is not only the manager’s business, it becomes an organisational problem as well. In fact an important part of a manager’s role is to develop employees and monitor performance. This makes the manager in the position to observe an employee’s decline in performance at an early stage. Once an employee displays a decline in performance, it may have to be dealt with by the manager in its early phases before it becomes set in place.

Clearly, you should never diagnose the problem. The problem itself is not the responsibility of the manager but the performance of the employee is. Ensure that you see the difference between the two.

The first thing you should do is to offer whatever resources are available to the employee. This may include mediation services if the organisation offers professional mediators, referral to outside resources, even time off. If that doesn’t help you may need to sit with the employee, and together develop a strategy about how to maintain their performance.

In his article “How can a manager deal with difficult employees”, F. John Rey (management.about.com/employeemotivation/a/DifficultEE605.htm?terms-22%difficult+employees%22) provides a 10 point plan:-

  1. Evaluate – evaluate each situation for the unique situation it is; don’t try one size fits all;
  2. Homework – act on facts so make sure you collect the facts;
  3. Develop a plan – plan the time and place for a meeting or meetings, making sure you will not be interrupted, who else should be present, what you will discuss and so on;
  4. Act quickly – but not impulsively;
  5. Confront the problem – bad situations do not fix themselves and if you allow it to fester it will only get worse;
  6. Deal with the behaviour and not the person – tell it from your point of view, not theirs, so “I feel that you…” rather than “You are always….”
  7. Do not assume – always ask for clarification rather than assume something;
  8. Be conscious of feelings – emotions can over-ride logic so allow for them and recognise them;
  9. Is once enough? Review whether there needs to be a series of meetings rather than just one;
  10. Know when you are over your head.

Dealing with workers who have personal issues affecting their performance is perhaps the hardest task for any manager. Yet often it has to be dealt with before a good worker deteriorates into being a bad worker that you have to part company with. Recognise the affects early and assist the employee, and you may not only stop their decline, you may actually improve their performance and build a long-lasting relationship with a productive worker for the organisation.

Let me know if you have had to deal with this at work, I’m really interested in knowing.

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