How to train managers to deal with problematic employees

A problematic employee can affect the morale and productivity of the entire workforce

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There are occasions when managers have to deal with subordinates or colleagues, who become a cause for concern. The reasons could be many — poor performance, disruptive behaviour or lack of discipline. How can managers deal with such employees?

Role of manager

Amit Das, CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Company, tells HRKatha that during his career, he has had to deal with multiple problematic people in his own team. He shares one instance of a girl — an exceptional performer — whose irritable behaviour annoyed others at the workplace. She could get away with it because of her excellent performance. However, over a period of time, her irritability and intolerant attitude started affecting her interpersonal skills at the workplace, which further had an adverse impact on her performance.

“Various modules of leadership development programmes train managers to deal with such situations”

Ranjith Menon, SVP-HR, Hinduja Global Solutions

Das talked to this subordinate and found that she was not really happy with the work she was doing. She sought more challenges in her work. “I realised that she was quite miserable in her current role,” Das recalls. After talking to her and chalking out a career path for her, Das helped her to transition into a different role, which turned out to be a great solution for her career. She became one of the most reliable employees in her department.

Ranjith Menon, SVP-HR, Hinduja Global Solutions, shares a similar experience with HRKatha. One of his colleagues, who started off as the best performer in his team, did quite well in the initial two months of the job. However, with time, his performance started to decline. Unable to meet deadlines or complete assignments, he was reduced to being an average performer in the company. Concerned by this drastic fall in performance, Menon decided to sit him down for a personal chat.

Menon discovered that the employee was going through some emotional challenges in his personal life, which were affecting his professional life. Menon patiently heard him out and discussed his issues with him at length. The employee’s performance started improving soon after.

Clearly, both Das and Menon did a great job of lending a patient ear to their subordinates, which helped identify the root cause of their poor performance and erratic behaviour.

“Leadership training has to be mandatory in organisations, where employees transition to team leader roles or managerial positions”

Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Solara Active Pharma Life Sciences

According to Rajeev Singh, CHRO, Solara Active Pharma Life Sciences, listening with compassion is the key to deal with such employees. It is very easy to criticise people for their behaviour at the workplace, but what is required is an attempt to discover the trigger. “I always believe in giving second chances,” states Singh.

Singh reveals that leadership training sessions in organisations commonly touch upon this aspect of management. “Various modules of leadership development programmes train managers to deal with such situations,” says Menon.

There are theoretical lessons as well as practical training sessions to teach managers how to deal with or handle people. In case of senior managers and leaders, role plays, case studies on such situations and mock sessions are conducted to train them to handle problematic employees in the company. In fact, Menon also mentions that in some training sessions, real-life scenarios are created to assess whether the managers have really got the hang of dealing with problematic employees.

Role of HR

When employees give their managers a hard time, it is mainly up to the two to sort out the matter themselves. What role does HR play in such situations? In the past, Menon points out that all people-management challenges or problems were dumped on the table of the HR. However, now, he is observing a change, with companies focusing on training their managers to deal with such situations. The role of the HR now is that of facilitator, arranging for both the parties to meet, converse and understand the root cause of the problem.

It is also up to the HR to be fair with both the parties, that is, the manager and the employee involved. Managers often come with certain pre-conceived notions and assumptions while making people-management decisions. “The role of HR in this entire process is to ensure that the line manager makes an unbiased effort to partner with the concerned employee to address and resolve the issue,” asserts Das.

“The role of HR is to enable, guide and ensure that the line manager makes an unbiased effort to partner with the concerned employee to address and resolve the issue”

Amit Das, CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Company

Menon feels that in most cases of behavioural issues with employees, the HR does not really play a big role. However, in performance issues, it is the HR that has to intervene and facilitate the required training to improve the concerned employee’s performance.

In most common scenarios, either the employee is put under a performance improvement programme (PIP), or a behavioural improvement programme (BIP).

The issues related to problematic employees may differ according to the employee demographic. Menon recalls the time when he was in Europe working with Siemens. There, employee–manager issues were more related to performance, because Europeans are known to keep their personal lives separate from their professional lives.

Dealing with problem employees, who require behavioural adjustments or modifications in attitude can be a messy affair. However, it is also very important to handle them because they tend to affect the workplace as a whole. Training managers to deal with them with the required maturity and composure is even more important. “Leadership training has to be mandatory in organisations, where employees transition to team leader roles or managerial positions,” advises Singh.

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