Employees – Handling Difficult Staff Members

In all walks of life, we meet up with people who cause friction, and if you are unfortunate in finding that you have either inherited, or taken on, such employees, you will have to tackle the problems sooner or later. The secret is in awareness, and maintaining control of your workforce without causing friction yourself.

Even the smallest firm should have a system in place, whereby a Day Book is kept to record all matters of importance that occurred during that day. Important telephone calls, materials ordered, start dates agreed, delivery dates promised etc. This is also the place to record site or personnel problems (in the first instance – you may also have a separate form of record elsewhere in your system).

It may be helpful to realise that you are not alone in trying to cope with awkward workers – those who sail very close to the wind, but never far enough to warrant dismissal (another topic altogether, not part of this article), but more than enough to be annoying and disruptive.
Let’s have a look at a few examples;

The one who has been to College, has NVQ Level 2 and/or NDH, and refuses to follow your instructions, claiming that ‘it was not the way I was taught at College’, and various similar cries. Gently point out that the reason they have several experts on Gardeners Question Time  is that there is always more than one way to do a job.

Skills learnt from College or from a book are for use throughout Britain, and they involve a wide range of different garden sites. But YOU are doing it YOUR way, and that is the way they will have to do it as well. If you copy me, you will learn another way.

Welcome their thoughts and input and, if possible, accommodate them by giving them a small area (or tree/shrub/slab/stone) to show you their method.

HOWEVER – this is the way you do things when you work here. You would not walk into a job at the Rolls Royce factory or B & Q, and expect to tell their Foreman how to run their business!

The one who refuses to wear PPE. ‘I hate wearing gloves. I cannot work with a helmet on, it makes me hot’. Often this defiance is symptomatic of other problems and is a challenge to your authority.

You have to be very firm – never shout or lose your composure, but remain firm and resolute. ‘PPE is provided free of charge to you, and you are obliged, by Law, (and your contract) to wear it as instructed, properly and securely. If you refuse, then go home’.

NO IFS, NO BUTS. No alternative choice of job. This is a disciplinary matter and should be dealt with as such. If an accident occurs, and you have capitulated, it becomes YOUR problem. You, as the Manager/Proprietor, must bear responsibility. Don’t give them another task. You will only regret your weakness, and they will become emboldened to cause further non-compliance in the future.

This is the one used to getting their own way. Perhaps they have arrived from another firm, or you are new to the company, and have inherited a Maverick. They will decide that it is OK to go to the local Colonel McLittle Eater to get their lunch, as they fancy a change/forgot their lunchbox. They will take the Company van, and it becomes a regular occurrence, almost a right in their minds. They MUST go to the shop because it is what they have always done. Plus, of course, their break starts the minute they get back from the shop, not when they left to go!

Simple answer? NO! Not in work time. Certainly NOT in the works vehicle. Imagine what would happen if there was an accident in the car park of the local supermarket between a car and your Company van. No valid reason to be there. No insurance. Massive problem for all concerned – especially you, ESPECIALLY if you did not forbid it.

Incidentally, if someone did use the vehicle without your express consent, they could be charged with taking and driving away, and theft of fuel, if stopped by the Police in the event of such an accident. Catch 22. You would either have to state that you did authorise the journey and risk problems with your insurers, or deny that they had your permission and they will be charged with a variety of criminal offences.

Place a written letter on the staff notice board/by hand absolutely forbidding anyone from driving the company vehicle without your express permission/in the course of their work duties.

List every member of staff and get them to place their initials against their name to say that they have read and understood the contents.
Sometimes you have to be very firm and entertain NO ARGUMENTS!

Not always obvious. Bullying can take many forms, and you need to be aware of any conflict going on at work. It may manifest itself in the choice of tools or jobs, with one person belittling the other. Bullying rarely happens between a group, it is usually between two individuals. It is not always the big one who dominates the smaller one.

Mocking others for their appearance, behaviour or skills. Removing someone from their usual seat in the messroom/van to discomfort them.
Once you spot this behaviour, the offender should be interviewed in your office, at a time of your instruction, not invitation. Quietly but firmly warn that you will not tolerate bullying.

Record this meeting in your Day Book, perhaps as a first verbal warning. They may be unaware that their behaviour has been causing friction, and they may themselves be so apologetic that the matter can be settled there and then. Remain calm and composed at all times.

They come in all shapes and sizes!

SWEARING – Do not tolerate swearing on site especially if members of the public or owners/family may be around. This can become a major problem, and may have to be dealt with under disciplinary procedures if it becomes necessary.

TARDINESS – Those who arrive for work just after start time, resulting in a ten minute delay in others getting under way. You start work – be at your work station on time, not arriving at the yard at five past start time. Again, this could be a subject for the messroom notice board/initialled letter.

THE SMELLY ONE – This can become quite an issue, if one member of staff has such a problem with personal hygiene or flatulence. What may amuse school children can become a serious problem at work – one that nobody wants to deal with. It can affect the mess room, office or workshop, causing major disruption.

Unfortunately, it is down to YOU, as the Proprietor/Boss, to address the problem and talk with the person. There is no easy way, but you should ask them to come to your office (or somewhere suitably private) for a chat about a problem you need their help with. Tell them, without beating about the bush, that you have a problem with their personal hygiene.

They may ask for an explanation and details of the complaint. Give it to them. Some people have problems with sweat glands in their feet or under their armpits. Offer to supply them with as much extra uniform as they need to change a couple of times a day if it helps.

Flatulence, again, this may be a medical problem. Have they seen the doctor? Can you help in any way? Would it help if we supplied some specific indigestion tablets?

A difficult one to deal with, but I have to say, in my experience, that a quiet chat, pointing out the need for greater cleanliness and  better hygiene is often welcomed. I have even been thanked at a later date for my help!

As always, constant dialogue, on a daily basis, will result in fewer problems. Deal with issues as they arise, never let them fester. As with all things regarding the work place, the work force – indeed, everything you do during your working life, you learn and never stop learning.