“Help! How do I handle my dramatic employee?”

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

August 06 2019

Kate Palmer, Peninsula’s Associate Director of Advisory, is an expert in employment law. This month, Kate helps Adam, a hair salon owner in Bristol, who’s struggling with a dramatic employee.

Kate explains how to handle the situation before it damages the business…

Adam’s dilemma
“My receptionist, Tom, brings drama wherever he goes. He’s talented and hard-working, but he also has a negative attitude and it’s starting to affect the rest of my staff.

“If things don’t go his way he argues or sulks. His attitude isn’t harming team performance yet, but it’s hurting their morale.

“If Tom wasn’t so good at his job I’d have let him go a long time ago, but he’s experienced and our clients love him. I don’t know what to do. Is it even legal to discipline someone for their personality? Please help…”

Kate replies
You’re right to get in touch, Adam—managing a dramatic employee is tricky.

While your employee, Tom, isn’t harming team performance yet, he’s hurting team morale. And that’s just as bad. If you don’t act quickly, your other staff will look for jobs elsewhere…

So, what do you do? Yes, you can discipline Tom for his drama if it means bad behaviour. But the disciplinary process is stressful, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the results you want…

First, follow these steps to deal with drama in the workplace:

1. Treat all staff the same

When someone’s getting results it might be tempting to overlook other issues, such as being dramatic. But treating staff differently could create friction in your team.

You need to treat everyone equally and fairly.

2. Lay down the law

Ask yourself: do your employees know how you expect them to behave at work? Maybe Tom doesn’t even realise he’s being dramatic.

I’d advise you to write an employee code of conduct to outline how you expect staff to behave, and include areas like appropriate language, attitude to work, and respect for colleagues.

You can refer to this if any employees are disruptive in the future...

3. Challenge people

It’s possible that Tom’s ‘acting up’ because he’s bored. And that doesn’t mean your business is boring. There’ll always be some less exciting tasks, but that’s not an excuse for bad behaviour...

People need to feel inspired and challenged. Make sure Tom has plenty of varied work on his plate. He’s less likely to be disruptive when he’s busy and invested in his work.

4. Value hard work

On the other hand, perhaps Tom is invested in his work, but feels underappreciated at the salon. If that’s the case, he could be looking for your attention.

Celebrate Tom’s positive client feedback. Hold one-to-one meetings to discuss his personal and professional development (PPD). Thank him when he does a good job. Make sure Tom knows you value his hard work.

5. Offer wellbeing support

If your PPD meetings reveal Tom’s behaviour relates to his personal life or mental health, you should offer as much support as possible.

An employee assistance programme (EAP) gives staff access to lots of wellbeing services, including a 24/7 helpline and counselling.

And it’s not just your employees that benefit from an EAP.

Using an EAP shows that you deal with mental health issues carefully, sensitively, and in line with UK employment law, which can help protect you from claims of disability discrimination.

6. What to do when all else fails…

The above steps will, hopefully, help you get Tom’s dramatic behaviour under control. But if the situation doesn’t improve, then it might be time to start a formal disciplinary process.

Sacking someone is always a last resort. But if you give Tom chances, resources and support, and there’s still no change in his behaviour, it might be time to let him go.

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