Can't work with them but don't want to lose them.

July 27, 2020

Have you ever had to consider how to manage those staff members in your organisation who are technically brilliant and very good at their job, but who have or are seen to have idiosyncratic or dysfunctional behaviours and attitudes? They behave in a way that is not aligned to the company culture and are seen as getting away with things that other staff are normally pulled-up on. Unfortunately, this can result in the view this staff member is being afforded special treatment and are exempt from normal behavioural expectaions, leading to bad feelings, wasted energy, destructive gossip and potentially abuildup of resentment from others.

What do you do because in your mind, their skills and talents may more than make up for the complaints that you are receiving. Employers often say to me; “I just wish they’d all grow up and get on with it”. This is easier said than done however.

Increasingly diverse workplaces or an increase in your workforce means you are likely to have behavioural and attitudinal differences that may be due to:

  • Dramatically different personality styles & working preferences
  • A diverse range of role specific skills and attributes
  • A resistance to change
  • Hiring minority groups
  • A melting pot of cultural norms
  • Varying lifecycle stages & home circumstances
  • Acute or chronic mental or physical health issues
  • Staff with physical or mental disabilities or undergoing rehabilitation regimes (workplaces usually have prior notice of this and employees are supported by case workers or specialty job placement agencies)
  • Diagnosed or undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD or ADHD, or
  • Plain and simple bad behaviours and attitudes

So firstly, the issue/s need to be identified.

If it is a case of a person behaving badly, that needs to be addressed as soon as possible and not ignored.

One bad egg who refuses to change no matter how talented, is usually not worth the damage they can cause.

Job Descriptions should contain technical skills & competencies required and company values and culturally based behaviours, as this allows objective assessment and timely, appropriate management of problem staff.

Specific education and training, personal awareness & staff development, mediation and teambuilding exercises may also be useful to help smooth the waters, building tolerance and understanding.

If however there are genuine reasons for these behavioural differences which are not likely to change and you want to keep this person, a practical and realistic plan needs to be created and implemented to ensure the situation is dealt with appropriately for the benefit of all.

I am sure you know by now that businesses (PCBUs in WHS speak) and workers have a duty of care and legal obligation to prevent and deal promptly with workplace bullying, discrimination or harassment which may occur due to different attributes that exist between people. There is also a requirement for every business to have in place a comprehensive suite of workplace policies and procedures (readily available from many sources), that all staff are trained on.

Communicating clearly on what are acceptable behaviours aligned to your company values is key to ensuring a common approach by all staff and building a strong culture and done well, this does not squash individuality but simply provides guardrails on laws of engagement with each other based on human decency.

Where there is a significant impact of the individual’s behaviour or attitudes on staff morale but you choose to keep them on, it may help to re-define the scope or delivery of their role to limit their impact on and involvement with others without being exclusionary or unfair. Working remotely or teleworking may be useful options.

Just remember, there is a fine line between bending over backwards to accommodate the specific needs of an individual and causing significant disengagement, loss of respect for you as the boss and a dent in the productivity of the rest of the team. Sometimes it helps to have a sounding board to objectively weigh up the pros and cons in a tough situation like this, so feel free to reach out if I can help.


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