The awkward squad

On a bad day, it can sometimes feel as if all your employees are awkward. But according to a poll carried out by Personnel Today and law firm Halliwells, there are 10 distinct types of difficult staff (below) that exist within organisations.

What is clear from the online survey of 1,585 Personnel Today readers is that dealing with awkward employees is most commonly the lot of the line manager (86%), followed by HR (11%).

Yet most of those polled are only either ‘fairly’ or ‘not very’ confident about the ability of line managers to handle such situations. HR, by contrast, gets a 70% ‘very confident’ response. If you have any doubts about how best to manage difficult staff, Guy Guinan, employment partner at Halliwells, provides his expert advice below.

The moaner

What the survey said

This was the most common type of difficult employee identified, highlighted by 82% of those polled. Moaners typically find fault with everything, are resistant to change or ideas and infect the whole workplace with their negative attitude.

While common in all types of organisation, they were most prevalent within health (92%) and least within construction (79%). Nearly a third of respondents (29%) felt moaners caused the most problems within their organisation, and 20% felt they were difficult to manage.

Guinan says

Assess first whether they have a point. If not, you need to stress that their attitude is unacceptable. If you can bring them round, great, if not you may need to go down performance or even disciplinary channels. It is important to differentiate between an employee who is simply moaning about meeting a target and someone who is complaining, say, about shortcuts affecting health and safety.

The liar

What the survey said

Cited by 78% of those polled, liars can be responsible for anything from dishonesty (making false excuses for poor time-keeping) right up to serious misdemeanours, such as theft.

Liars caused the most problems for 24% of respondents, with retail (92%) finding them the biggest problem and education (72%) the least. They were also felt to be hardest to manage by 20% of our sample.

Guinan says

It is important to follow fair, transparent procedures. There needs to be clear evidence and the employee should be given a chance to answer any allegations. This comes down to good knowledge management, knowing how to recognise when there is a persistent problem and recognising that, even if it seems trivial, it can become more serious.

The worrier

What the survey said

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of our sample identified worriers (workers who are often stressed, feel over-burdened and are probably not coping) as difficult.

Worriers caused the most problems for 10% of respondents, and 11% felt they were the hardest to manage. They were most common in government and the charity sector (86%) and the least in construction (57%).

Guinan says

It is worth taking a lead here from the Health and Safety Executive’s stress management guidelines by carrying out a risk assessment of their job, the demands being put upon them and the level of control and support that they have. You need to look at their relationship with colleagues and superiors.

The bully

What the survey said

A total of 70% of our poll identified bullies as an issue for their organisation. Bullies were felt to cause the most problems by the second highest percentage of respondents (27%), and 26% felt they were the hardest to manage. The health sector, at 91%, had the highest proportion of organisations experiencing bullying. Electronics, at 59%, had the lowest.

Guinan says

Bullying is clearly a conduct issue. It is vital to have a clear policy in place and follow correct procedures. There may be issues about how you pursue a case without identifying your source, who may be scared to come forward, but this needs to be overcome. You have to have evidence, but you cannot ignore it.

The personal hygiene sufferer

What the survey said

Cries of ‘yuk’ apart, six out of 10 of our sample cited personal hygiene sufferers as an issue. While only considered a problem by 1%, 7% recognised them as potentially difficult to manage. Retail, with 81%, had the highest proportion of sufferers, while electronics was the most fragrant sector, at 50%.

Guinan says

However you approach this it is not going to be easy. Asking whether there is a medical reason behind it is one route employers often take, but try to be as constructive as you can. You have to try to manage it without causing offence, and in as delicate a way as possible.

The addict

What the survey said

Just under half our poll (49%) identified addicts (drink or drugs) as an issue for them.

This was the biggest problem for government (62%), with the electronics sector least concerned (41%). Addicts were the hardest problem to manage for 8% of those polled, although only 3% said they caused them the most problems.

Guinan says

With more employers now routinely testing for drugs, this is a growing issue. In some industries there will be obvious health and safety issues, but HR needs to tread carefully as there are potentially tricky human rights and confidentiality issues too. The key again is to have a transparent, consistent, clearly communicated policy that employees know if they breach, they will be in trouble. If you have a zero tolerance policy you have to keep to it.

The sex-site surfer

What the survey said

With the internet now a ubiquitous feature of the modern day office, this type of employee was identified as an issue by 39% of our sample. Electronics reported the highest proportion (48%) with catering the lowest (27%). But just 2% identified such workers as problematic and only 1% found them hard to manage.

Guinan says

Having a clear surfing policy (this can cover not just sex sites but personal internet use too) is a good idea. You need a policy to cover acceptable use. Employers can find themselves open to sexual harassment claims even if it is simply a case of an employee viewing sites while another employee is in the room.

The Romeo

What the survey said

This was identified by a third of our sample (33%) as an issue, with the retail sector (45%) reporting the highest proportion and the charity sector (21%) the lowest. Romeos caused the most problems for just 1% of the survey sample and 2% found them the hardest to manage.

Guinan says

Problems here include flirting and harassment, or a couple working in the same office who break up. It is normally a question of having a clear, consistent policy in place that is kept to and communicated clearly.

The dedicated follower of fashion

What the survey said

Identified by a third of our poll, catering had the biggest problem here (49%), against just 18% reported by education. However, such employees rarely caused major problems (just 1% of our poll) and not a single member of our sample felt they were hard to manage.

Guinan says

The key considerations here are health and safety or hygiene, and whether there are issues related to religious belief. There may also be trans-gender issues that could land you in hot water. Again, you should have a clear policy that you would be able to justify at a tribunal. Are you making a rule about someone’s dress purely on a whim or are you able to justify it?

The convict

What the survey said

Convicts were identified as an issue by 31%, with government reporting the highest proportion (51%), and professional services (16%) the least. Just 1% reported such employees as causing the most problems and a similarly small percentage found them hard to manage.

Guinan says

The issue here is often less about managing the ex-convict and more about managing the attitudes and expectations of co-workers. There may also be data protection issues to consider. Who, for instance, should have access to records and when do convictions become spent? Then there can be the issue of what to do if a current employee acquires a criminal record. They might, for instance, need to take time off to appear in court.

What people said

“We have a member of staff who does not get on with colleagues, challenged accepted procedures, alleged bullying by a colleague, went off sick with stress, would not accept the decision of the grievance panel, and has now been off work since February.”

“One of my temps stole a lot of money from a client and then disappeared.”

“We had an employee in a key role in a small division who just about achieved the minimum performance required, but responded to any kind of hint or perceived criticism with anger and a flurry of formal grievances alleging bullying, harassment and victimisation.”

For a ful report on the survey findings go to www.personneltoday.com/32711.article

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