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Top tips for managing difficult employees

Domonique McRae examines typical stereotypes of difficult workers and how to manage them effectively.

1. Recurring unexplained sickness absence

Workplace absence due to illness is not uncommon, however where an employee is repeatedly absent for a day or two with unexplained symptoms or illness, employers may wish to tackle the underlying problem. Employers should have an up to date sickness absence policy, and attendance records should be kept on employee’s files to be used to monitor absences and lateness.

A top tip for reducing intermittent absences is to hold return to work meetings with the employee. If you are suspicious about whether the absences are genuine, the fact that a meeting will be held upon the employee’s return can act as a deterrent to those who are not necessarily unfit for work. If on the other hand, there are genuine reasons for the absences, effective return to work discussions gives the employee an opportunity to voice any reasonable adjustments that will assist them to minimise future absences. It also means that this kind of absence can be managed and resolved on an informal basis.

If unexplained absences continue, employers can then consider requesting a medical assessment (if appropriate) and possibly disciplinary action.

If not tackled immediately, an employee’s absence will often affect productivity and may impact the morale of the team. It is therefore important not just to avoid having what could be a difficult conversation.

2. Underperformance/ lack of productivity

When employees lack focus, the quality of their work tends to be poor. This can have a huge impact on business productivity and should be addressed as soon as possible. Sometimes a change in performance is as a result of matters outside of work but, if the problem is work related it is important that steps are taken to remove the issue (if possible).

In order to approach this problem, employers are encouraged to meet with their employee on an informal basis to get to the bottom of the reason for the change in performance. They can then consider implementing and/or taking the following steps:

  • Creating performance goals and or implementing targets
  • Provide refresher training
  • Develop a performance improvement plan

If an employee continues to under perform and is not willing to take advantage of the resources provided to assist them, the company may consider letting them go. This could be following capability proceedings or a protected conversation in which a settlement is offered to bring the employment relationship to an end.

3. Lack of engagement with team/ management/ company

Employee engagement in the workplace is important in creating a positive and healthy work condition, increased productivity and individual performance. Read our guest author, Adam Reader, MD from Grace Foods UK’s tough Q&A on achieving high employment engagement rates.

Top tips for improving engagement includes providing regular updates on the company and its vision, encouraging personal development and rewarding good results. Employers are encouraged to find time to understand what motivates their employees and encourage a positive work environment by facilitating team outings such as lunch and after work activities. Taking these somewhat simple steps will ensure employees are engaged and in return, employers will benefit from increased loyalty and higher productivity among their employees.

4. Overworked employee

There is no denying that Employers appreciate hard working Employees, especially those flexible enough to remain in the office even when others are away. However Employers should take reasonable steps to ensure that their employees are not overworked.

A top tip is to ensure all workers take adequate breaks both during the working day but also in the form of annual leave. You could consider preventing employees from carrying over accrued but untaken leave to the next holiday year and instead, making sure they take their entitlement.  


If you would like more information or advice relating to this article or an Employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Domonique McRae on 01727 798023 or 020 7183 5683.

© SA LAW 2018

Every care is taken in the preparation of our articles. However, no responsibility can be accepted to any person who acts on the basis of information contained in them alone. You are recommended to obtain specific advice in respect of individual cases.

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