Business managers frequently have to deal with issues regarding employee behaviour. There’s an old adage that you “hire for the skills and fire for the behaviour,” and this often holds true. Employees exhibiting disruptive, negative or even dangerous behaviour may sometimes need to be disciplined and occasionally, in the worst-case scenario, dismissed. A good manager will, however, always do his or her best to resolve the issue before it comes to the ‘nuclear option’.
There’s a difference to be drawn between employees who consistently display negative behaviours and those who – either suddenly or gradually – change their behaviour to become more erratic or irregular within the workplace. In the first case, the selection process is the first line of defence against hiring employees who consistently display negative traits, which could include aggression, laziness, disorganisation, untrustworthiness, resistance to change or a number of other traits and behaviours. An organisation can change and tighten its selection procedures and this can help in the future, but those who slip through the net must still be managed. This is generally done through a combination of positive reinforcement (i.e. rewards), the setting up of best practices and discipline where warranted (with dismissal being the ultimate disciplinary tool).
For those whose behaviour changes to become out of character, a different approach may be called for. Erratic or irregular behaviour could manifest as problems with punctuality or appearance, a lowering of work standards, missing deadlines and aggressive or otherwise disturbed emotional behaviour. There could be many underlying reasons that could trigger a change in workplace behaviour. The employee could have suffered bereavement, a break-up or some other trauma in their personal lives. They could be struggling with stress, mental health issues or an increased workload or changes in working practices and conditions. They could also be struggling with drink or drug problems.
Some companies choose to implement drink and drug testing policies as part of overarching health and safety strategies. It’s worth noting however that there are strict rules surrounding compulsory tests of this nature and the oral fluid lab test or other tests must be carried out professionally.
Whatever the underlying reasons behind an employee’s irregular behaviour, it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with an individual and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A research project from the University of New South Wales found that “the single greatest influence on profitability and productivity within an organisation… is the ability of leaders to spend more time and effort developing and recognizing their people, welcoming feedback, including criticism, and fostering co-operation among staff.”
It can be useful to talk personally with employees, but business managers should also remember that an employee’s personal life is just that. Discussions should be centred on the employee’s performance and how it might be suffering. It should be left up to the employee if they want to open the discussion further, although additional services such as counselling and employee assistance hotlines can also be useful. Irregular employee behaviour can be challenging to deal with but all employees are valuable assets and it’s always worth trying to get to the root of a problem and working out a solution that fits both parties.
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