10 Tips for Managing Tricky People

Reducing the pain of performance managing difficult employees

10 Tips for Managing Tricky People


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Written by Peak Services, Legal and Workforce Team

Performance management is one of the hardest aspects of a management role. Add a difficult employee into the mix and it becomes almost impossible. Here are some thoughts on how to reduce the pain of this process.

  1. Don’t avoid it

This is the most important thing. If you avoid dealing with performance issues they will grow and become established. The longer it goes on, the more people will be affected, including your other employees who see their colleague deliver poor work, seemingly unnoticed by management.

  1. Clearly identity issues and expectations

Ensure you make the performance issues and your expectations about improvement, very clear. Have examples at the ready and refer to any policy, procedure, or process which outlines the work requirements. Make sure the employee understands your expectations and confirm them in writing with the employee.

  1. Document everything!

Whether it’s a casual chat about a performance related issue, or a formal meeting, follow up with the employee by email on the same day so that you have a contemporaneous record of what was said, and the employee has a record of what is expected of them.


Informal Performance Management

  1. Start early

Focus on correcting the employee’s performance informally as soon as possible. Informal chats at the time-poor work starts to emerge can be effective. It is possible to improve the employee's performance at the early stages of the informal process.

  1. Be kind

Build rapport with your employee during the informal performance conversations. Show empathy to them. Ask them about the challenges they are facing and listen to the answers. This will make the process easier for you and will increase the likelihood of their performance improving.


Formal Performance Management 

Preparation is key!

A formal process includes written performance plans, targeted weekly / monthly meetings, and the possibility of a disciplinary outcome if requirements are not met.

The formal performance management process is more complex than an informal process. It is usually the road to terminating employment and the employee likely knows it.

  1. Have regular set dates and times for performance meetings

Make them a priority and do not cancel them. Cancelling sends the message that the meeting is not important and takes momentum away from the process. These meetings are stressful for everyone. Keep them on time and keep them under an hour if possible.

  1. Be prepared

Have all documentation with you in the meeting and ensure you understand all the issues.

  1. Have someone with you – other than the employee

Either a colleague with you to take notes, and/or allow a union rep to attend as a support person. This is useful in avoiding protracted bullying claims and is important if termination of employment is a possibility.

  1. Expect a workplace bullying complaint against you

The employee might decide to fight back, and this is the most effective way they can. Don’t take it personally. The majority of formal management processes involve the employee making a complaint. Reasonable management action, taken in a reasonable way, is not bullying. You may be able to continue with the performance management process while the complaint is investigated but extreme care needs to be taken if termination of employment is contemplated. Call Peak Services Legal for help with this if you’re unsure about next steps.

  1. When the employee calls in sick, seek advice

The employee might call in sick during the process. You might be faced with a workers’ compensation claim (likely related to a complaint about workplace bullying) or the employee might simply take sick leave with no indication of when they will return. These situations can be difficult to manage and it's advisable to seek professional legal advice.

We suggest you call Peak Services Legal for assistance when performance management and claims of illness/injury due to workplace bullying intersect.

Contact Peak Services Legal and Workforce, Legal Practice Director Troy Wild by email twild@wearepeak.com.au or phone 0437 418 692

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