The secret to managing tricky employees

By Carole Burman, MAD-HR

Of all the challenges employers face, we know how difficult it can be when issues of employee conduct or performance arise.

Published in Suffolk Director Magazine Winter 2023|24

Human Resources: Carole Burman, MAD-HR

These sensitive situations can take some out of their comfort zone and be time-consuming to tackle. However, it is worth putting in the effort to manage them as they can have a huge bearing on overall employee morale, productivity, and the collective company culture you might be trying hard to foster.

Prevention is best

It may sound obvious, but the best way of avoiding challenging issues is to ensure you have the kind of culture and framework of responsibilities within your workplace that stops difficulties arising in the first place. Consider how you recruit and onboard employees, making sure there are clear expectations about roles, behaviours and requirements. Spend time developing handbooks and resources that clarify behavioural and performance standards. Be clear in your company-wide policies about what conduct is appropriate, so that there are always reference points if issues occur.

Enable communication

Where companies have a strong culture of open communication, it is less likely that formal grievances will emerge unexpectedly. If embedded appropriately, it can mean people feel able to come forward openly or anonymously if they are uncomfortable with the behaviours of others.

Move swiftly

The more promptly you move to understand and address an issue, the better able you are to prevent escalation and ensure that it doesn’t cause ripple effects across the entire business.

Conduct meetings with the employee, seek to learn the perceptions of multiple parties, and take decisive action.

Take note

It’s really important to document how you are addressing employee issues. This may become important if the matter escalates. Ensure you record each encounter or communication.

Ask the experts

This might be your in-house HR team or an external consultant. It’s wise to have someone involved in the process who can ensure you are acting appropriately, fairly and lawfully. Independence and objectivity can be key to reaching a win-win conclusion.

Consider the wider workforce

As you navigate any issue, and during the process of concluding matters, make sure you are mindful of how this might affect other staff. Some may have worked alongside the individual for a long time, and others may feel unnerved by the change in mood on the ‘shop floor’. Remember, the team will be watching closely how issues are handled, as it may indicate how they may be treated in the future. Keep your culture and morale front of mind.

Review and respond

While situations like these can be tricky for any employer, remember that this is an opportunity to reflect and review. Use the incident as a chance to revisit processes, to check in with individuals about their perceptions of the workplace, and to consider whether in the future you would manage a similar scenario in an alternative way.

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Get in touch

Carole Burman is the founder and Managing Director of MAD-HR, an award-winning East Anglian HR consultancy. Photo of Carole by Big Fish Photography

T: 01473 360160
Or visit           

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