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Weathering stormy seas: how to deal with a hostile employee…

ID-100262650However painful it may be to deal with conflict, it’s obvious why disgruntled team members can’t be ignored. Not only does their own productivity drop, if their issues aren’t listened to or resolved, their unhappiness can start to affect their colleagues, too. Contention is not the nicest thing to have to deal with as a manager/leader, but rebellious, aggressive or damaging behaviour must be nipped in the bud; it’s not an option to pretend it isn’t happening.

Finding the root of the problem

Having an open-door policy is a good way of inviting any employee with a problem to share it with you – but be prepared that some employees won’t volunteer their complaint. Depending on the size of the department or team you manage, you may be able to gauge for yourself whether an employee’s behaviour is out of character and subsequently approach them to resolve their issues in a scheduled one-to-one meeting. Never address your concerns or get into an argument in-front of co-workers.

When holding the private conversation, be aware that the employee’s responses may mask the real issue at hand. Though you may feel like being accusatory, it’s unlikely you’ll get true answers with such an approach. Conversation should be exploratory; you’re looking to gather facts, not offer your opinion or advice. You’re looking to pinpoint the problem and find the best way to get the employee productive again.

Not all solutions are quick-fixes or within your control

It may be that the employee needs more support or training to carry out their role, and the negativity/resistant behaviour they’re extolling actually stems from fear, frustration or a lack of confidence. A heavy workload may need a rethink of the team’s overall and individual responsibilities, or it may be an indicator that more staff members are needed. Explain that you need time to look into their complaint, and observe the department in more detail before forming a solution. It’s important they see you dealing with their issue and that you report back to them if they’re to feel valued and listened to; letting the matter peter out doesn’t mean it won’t go away – you’ll find it only exacerbates it.

There’s a possibility the employee’s unhappiness is not a work issue at all, but personal problems that are spilling over into their working life. If a few days off for them is practical, and would help, it could prove a good move for the whole team. Be prepared, however, that some employees may wish to remain at work, away from the drama at home. In this case, they need support and help to detach from their problems once in the workplace.

Show that you’re dealing with things…

Whenever you have a discussion with a hostile employee, it’s always a good idea to take summary notes of the problem and the action both parties will take following the meeting. This should be agreed upon by both sides, so that there’s no misinterpretation or inaccurate/unrealistic expectations of any outcome. It also means you have a pertinent record should you need to escalate matters later.

And if all else fails:

If every effort has been made to resolve the issue, and the employee is still antagonistic, third party help should be sought, in the way of your company’s HR department or equivalent, who can then help you implement a more formal grievance process.

business meetingIn some cases, you may need to hold a team meeting with the disgruntled employee’s co-workers. Though they will probably be glad you’re tackling the problem colleague, it may still lead to feelings of unrest, discord or ‘how will this affect me?’ thought processes. Being honest about the situation and how it’s being dealt with is preferable, and reiteration regarding tolerable office behaviour and what’s expected of the team would be timely. However, to avoid what may seem a dictatorial stance, revisiting the team’s goals, and working together to improve morale and the organisational culture will lay good foundations going forward.

It’s not always fun at the top; being a leader means resolving conflict and minimising any fallout before it affects the team’s performance or damages the group’s/department’s structure. The key is to remain professional and not take any rebellion personally; after all, who knows why other people behave the way they do? All you’re concerned with is what’s best for the team AND the individual – if, indeed, these can both be achieved.

For further details regarding my leadership coaching or the work I specifically carry out with executives across the Yorkshire area, contact me on 01302 220021.

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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