Whether you work in Dubai’s buzzing start-up community or a large established international company, bringing out the best in employees is the leader’s mantra. But what do you do with an employee who is difficult to work with, yet does their job brilliantly?
Some people are like vampires, sucking all the joy and life out of an organisation. Whether it’s the constant flow of critical emails, the snide backchat at lunch, or insults thrown around like confetti – the effect is to bring down the morale of people around them.
But some organisations keep difficult employees around because it’s been decided they are too good at what they do. It could be the creative who always delivers winning ideas, the accountant keeping the business afloat, or the engineer effortlessly fixing technology glitches.
Yet, as a leader it’s your job to ensure the whole company is working well. Pandering to the negative whims of one employee could lead to you losing other employees. You’re feeling that one individual is too valuable can rub off on others, making them feel unappreciated, or worthless.
This low morale in other employees can lead to staff handing in their notice. And if they’d rather move to another company, is this one individual worth the time and the money to train up new people?
On the flip side, people may not leave your business, but the negative impact of working with a difficult employee can lead to lower performance. Looking at that lowered performance across the board, and your business is going to suffer.
So how do you deal with a difficult person?
Firstly, examine the issues being brought to you by the individual’s co-workers. Are they valid? Can they be backed up with facts? With technology being used so frequently for communication, any offensive behaviour committed via email or social media can be readily examined.
Once you’ve established the extent of a person’s unpleasant behaviour, it’s time to have a one-to-one with them. Outline the complaints and work out a way to help modify their behaviour to be less offensive towards others.
One way is to offer them training. Sometimes a course in emotional intelligence, or stress/anger management can have a positive effect. And it’s a more productive way for you to keep an exceptional talent.
You should also remind them of their obligation to abide by company policy – offensive or bullying behaviour cannot be tolerated in any organisation. Some businesses have a three strikes rule. Once a person has transgressed beyond three warnings they are given an official warning, then if the behaviour persists, they are fired.
After the initial meeting, you then have to allow time for your discussion to sink in. Monitor their behaviour at work more closely and see if there is an improvement.
If there is no improvement (and in some cases addressing a problem can make difficult people behaviour worsen) and they are proving toxic to the workplace, as the leader you have to make a tough decision. Keep them and get others to work around their idiosyncrasies, or jettison them from the company. If you’re going to get rid of someone, ensure you’ve lined up a replacement first!
When people aren’t happy in their workplace, the workflow is interrupted and the ripples run through the entire team. Conflict arises from many different sources: a misleading claim for a successful advertising concept at your Dubai marketing meeting, a team fragmenting during a stressful point in a project, or a simple gripe over missing food in the office fridge.
Finding the best way to resolve conflict in the office means knowing how to effectively implement your company’s human resource guidelines. Just as you wouldn’t sue your neighbour the first time their child chucks a ball over the fence, you wouldn’t go straight for formal warnings when tensions rise in the workplace – well not unless the tensions had resulted in some seriously criminal behaviour.
Initially your job as manager of a team of people is to diffuse the situation when it becomes a problem to the overall running of the team. This may mean pulling the main protagonists to one side and giving them the chance to air their views. At this stage it’s not about finding out which one of them is wrong, it’s more about allowing them to talk in a reasonable manner, in a safe place. This is essential to achieving an early resolution. Let a situation go too far and they may not even wish to sit in the same room to talk it through.
What you are aiming for is a position where all parties get to air their views equally. Some conflict may arise out of one person receiving a promotion that another person feels unfairly missed them. Or there may be serious disagreements over the right way to structure a bid. You may not wish to take out time during a busy period, but an hour taken out to help people can prevent hours and hours of poorly done work down the line.
At the initial stage, do keep a note of all the dealings with the conflict. This will help you if there are more problems down the line. If they haven’t listened to each other, you can at least show them your thoughts on the meeting and how it was concluded.
Allow each person equal time to put forward their side of the problem, but bear in mind that each person is seeing it solely from their point of view. It is your job to keep a sense of perspective and not be drawn yourself into the argument.
Try and find a point on which everyone agrees and build a solution around it. If you cannot find resolution, the next step could be mediation. This is a more formal meeting and you should talk to someone in human resources beforehand. They will have more experience dealing with conflict and may be able to offer a solution you hadn’t thought of.
But don’t forget, not all conflict is necessarily bad. There are times when two people do not see eye to eye on how to deliver a new product. In these situations, the win/win scenario can be made to fit. Even though neither of them can be completely right, a seasoned well trained manager of a Dubai company will know how to solve the problem: look at both methods and take the very best ideas from both camps.