<< Back

The Next Viral Trend… Problems with Employees!

By Philip Moody, Senior HR Consultant

Throughout my time in HR, I have noticed that there is one problem that every single one of my clients have faced: People Problems. Whether it is an employee who is going through a period of disengagement, or someone who has consistently been an emotional drain in the workplace from day one, there is lots that can be done to remedy the situation.

As a HR consultant, whenever I ask companies why they believe these employees are presenting problems, it usually cannot be linked to a particular time or event. The response I hear most often is, “It’s just how they are”. This is an excuse that will not help your organisation, your own or your colleagues’ work lives, or even your problem employee themselves. Disengagement, negativity, and demotivation can spread through a workforce like a virus.

So, how should you approach people problems in your team?


Recruitment can too often become a task to find a person rather than the right person.

A standard interview will rarely give you a true impression of an individual’s motives, desires, passions and whether they will be a good fit with your team and your organisation. It is also possible to talk-the-talk in an interview, but fail to walk-the-walk on the job.

Looking into complementary recruitment tools can give you a better impression of an individual as a whole person, and therefore decrease the likelihood that you hire your next problem employee:

  • Competency Based Interviews – Employees who are underqualified for their role will be more likely to become defensive, negative and problematic. An expert in the role which is being advertised should be consulted to confirm the job competencies and interpersonal competencies required for the role.
  • Psychometric testing – There are a range of psychometric tests designed to explore candidate interests, values and motivators. They analyse emotions, behaviours and relationships in a variety of situations, and how the candidate’s character fits with the role and organisation.
  • Skills testing – Aptitude tests assess reasoning or cognitive ability, determining whether a candidate has the right skillset for a role.
  • Assessment Centre – A group of candidates is assessed at the same time and place using a wide range of selection exercises. The tests measure a candidate’s ability to perform real-life tasks that would be expected of them in their role.


Most managers are reluctant to dismiss problem employees, even during a probationary period which is specifically intended to review the employee’s suitability for the role. This reluctance often stems from a lack of confidence in how to ensure key statutory requirements are met to prevent a tribunal claim.

It is important during probation that regular reviews and records are held for every employee. No matter how small or trivial an issue may be at the time, they can add up to a bigger picture around the employee’s unsuitability for the role.

Keeping detailed records from the very beginning is essential to proving your compliance with statutory requirements when dismissing an employee.

During a probationary period, the employee should be showcasing their desire for the job and work ethic. Where the required motivation, skill and commitment is not evident during an employee’s initial few months, it is highly unlikely that it will become evident over time.

Managing Issues

Many employee problems arise from misunderstandings. Leading performance management researchers, Michael Armstrong and Angela Barron, state that, “Effective performance management involves sharing an understanding of what needs to be achieved, and then managing and developing people in such a way that enables the shared objectives to be achieved.”

Sometimes employees are being asked to perform tasks which they are underqualified for, or they are unclear what is expected of them. Competent management with exceptional interpersonal communication skills are essential to keeping your employees happy and productive.

In the event that an employee continues to pose a problem, competent managers should also be confident in handling the difficult conversations which are required to either get an employee back on track, or begin dismissal processes. If management are taking the “It’s just the way they are” approach, then perhaps the managers themselves need to review their motivators and develop their skills.

Organisation Culture

When you have visited as many organisations as I have, it becomes very obvious that every organisation has their own culture. Usually an organisation’s culture develops organically, as employees who fit into the culture stick around for a long time, while others who do not fit the culture will likely leave the organisation eventually.

It is necessary for management teams to review their organisational culture to ascertain where it is having positive or negative impact. For example, an organisation may have a culture where feedback is provided rarely. This means that when feedback is provided, the conversation does not appear natural and the employee will likely take the feedback as a personal attack and become defensive.

Appraisals & Performance Reviews

Following an employee’s probation period, regular appraisals and performance reviews remain essential. Not only do these give employees the support they just may need to meet expectations, but they provide you with evidence that you have given every opportunity for improvement.

During reviews, employees should be give SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timed. Goals that meet SMART requirements should not leave room for ambiguity and therefore provide strong written evidence to support intervention with a problem employee.

What happens when it all becomes too much?

When management intervention, strong leadership, feedback and goal setting have failed to provoke an improvement in an employee, it can be necessary for a company to remove an employee from the organisation. This could be through redundancy, a Without Prejudice conversation, or a dismissal under Some Other Substantial Reason (SOSR). Each of these approaches comes with their own risks and benefits, dependent on the organisation and the individual to be dismissed.

Most importantly, HR and management should reflect carefully following any of the processes outlined above. Handling people problems in the workplace is an emotional and timely process for managers and colleagues alike, and often people choose to ignore the problem until it becomes a crisis. Taking preventative measures at earlier stages such as recruitment, probation and consistent management, will prove more cost and time-effective in the long term.

Putting off short term discomfort now, will only cause long term dysfunction.

Legally compliant processes are essential to handling problem employees efficiently; so you need to be up-to-date on these requirements from the moment a problem arises.

On 12th March 2020, Think People Consulting are holding a half-day development workshop on “People Problems in the Workplace” to help prepare HR professionals, managers and business owners for when people problems inevitably arise. This workshop will cover:

  • Absence Management
  • Performance Management
  • Investigations And Disciplinary
  • Flexible Working Applications
  • Grievances

Click Here To Reserve Your Space on “People Problems in the Workplace”

If there is any reason that you believe a problem employee within your organisation is not being dealt with appropriately, get in touch with Think People Consulting who provide advice, support and implementation in:

  • Employment Law Compliance
  • Competency Based Talent Assessment, Recruitment And Development
  • Bespoke HR Policies, Procedures, Contracts And Handbooks
  • Organisational Culture Development
  • Leadership And Management Development
  • Executive Coaching
  • Employee Grievance And Disciplinary Procedures
  • Mediation
  • Redundancies And Dismissals
Cora Degan