If an employee is uncooperative, bad tempered in the workplace or rude to colleagues or customers, it can damage your firm's reputation and harm staff morale. Ultimately, this can lead to a loss of sales or a fall in productivity.
This update was published in Small Business Update 78 - June 2010
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It only takes one difficult person to poison the atmosphere. So it's vital to deal with unacceptable behaviour as soon as it arises. Allowing it to continue unchecked can send out the signal that it is tolerated and even acceptable.
If you notice a pattern of an employee speaking inappropriately to customers, objecting to requests, and so on, deal with it quickly so that it doesn't become a habit.
Never call someone out publicly, but speak to them informally and in private. Always begin by asking them how they are feeling about work and whether they have any problems. Difficult behaviour is often an expression of an underlying problem that is not being addressed.
If the employee does reveal a work-related issue, you must take reasonable steps to address it. Even if they admit a personal difficulty, you can offer support in the form of a listening ear and some practical help - though you could also explain that they ought not to allow personal matters to affect their work.
In any case, you must tell them, clearly and directly, the reason why you have asked them for a meeting so they can understand their behaviour and its impact. Having a written behaviour policy or code of conduct to refer to will make your task easier.
This may well be all it takes. The employee could be unaware of what they are doing, or embarrassed into changing their attitude. They may also be grateful for the chance to get something off their chest; be prepared to acknowledge their feelings, as well as get your own message across.
If informal action fails, you will have to step up the pressure. At this point, you may need to initiate some form of disciplinary action.
The Acas code of practice outlines the steps you should take, and when. In short, you should establish facts, write the employee a letter and hold a formal meeting before deciding on appropriate and reasonable action. You must also give the employee the right to appeal.
While the code is not a legal obligation, if you don't follow it there is a risk you will be penalised if the matter goes to an employment tribunal.
If a member of staff makes a formal complaint about a colleague, you must take action otherwise the complaint could turn into a grievance against you.
Some situations may be down to a dispute between colleagues or a straightforward personality clash. Acas has a free helpline which offers basic legal advice, but the organisation can also provide a mediator - although this can cost up £1,000 a day. Various private organisations also offer mediation and dispute resolution.
In extreme cases of bad behaviour, you may have grounds for instant dismissal because of gross misconduct. An example of this would be physically threatening a colleague.
But it is undesirable to allow things to reach this point. Take steps to prevent problems by giving all new employees a copy of your HR policy, talking to them regularly and reminding them of the importance of treating colleagues and customers with respect.
With thanks to Acas external training knowledge manager, Carole Sayer.
Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.
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