How to deal with a problem staff member

Posted on by Mark Fernandez

Raghav Mera, the Director of HR Catalyst and P1 Group has come on board to contribute an informative article on how to deal with an often sensitive subject – a problem staff member.

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By: Raghav Mera

Problem staff can not only be difficult to work with but can affect the morale of others around them. They have problems not solutions, they undermine others, give excuses, can be abrasive, disrespectful, untrustworthy and most importantly do not do the job as required.

This can create significant frustration, worry and negative energy – a permanent thorn in the side, compromising the very quality of life.

In addition, there can be a huge financial impact due to lack of productivity, re-work, customer complaints, lost business, etc. Consider the difference in profit between a good and poor staff member and you can see the cost of keeping a problem staff member on your rolls.

So if the problem is so damaging, why is it tolerated, why isn’t it fixed, what gets in the way?

Simply, the busyness of doing business. The lack of time to deal with the issue properly, the additional workload if the staff member leaves, the hassle of recruiting and training someone new…  and the list goes on.

Then there could be doubts and misgivings about the issue –  is the person really the problem?  Or could he or she improve with training and better supervision? What is the guarantee that the replacement will be better?

There is also the deep emotional reluctance to tell someone negative things to their face, with the underlying concern that they could respond angrily and perhaps even do some damage to the business.

It could also be lack of clear understanding of legislation and doubts about the consequences of getting it wrong.

There are compelling reasons to do something, yet there are plenty of barriers to doing it. If you decide to make a change,  here are some practical steps.

1.         Write down for yourself what the exact problem(s) is, what is missing, what is required.  Be honest and clear with yourself. This is a critical step.

2.         Develop the emotional space that by addressing this matter you are doing everyone a favour, including the problem staff member, and no-one is winning in a bad situation. Yes, it takes courage.

3.         Have a polite but frank discussion with the staff member about the real issues, their impact on the business, on you and on others and what would you like him or her to do in the future. Do not beat around the bush or give hints, please be direct and check for understanding.

4.         Follow up in 2-3 weeks to provide honest and direct feedback. If there is improvement, celebrate, otherwise let the person know which areas you are not satisfied with.

5.         Please be considerate, polite and respectful yet clear and firm – this can be difficult. Maybe you can practice the discussion with a close associate or a friend.

6.         Consider getting specialist external help as this is a tricky, emotionally charged area. All available options are not widely understood and not everyone has the skills to apply them correctly and get the appropriate result.

Finally, take heart from the matter that even if the process is difficult, it is better for both parties that the matter is and resolved – living in permanent stress takes the pleasure out of business!

Written by
Raghav Mehra
Director, HR Catalyst
July 2014

Raghav Mehra

Director – Human Resource Catalyst and P1 Group
A mechanical engineer by profession, Raghav has held diverse senior management roles in the engineering industry across the South Pacific.

Having spent 20 years in Project, Operations, Sales and General management, it dawned on him that organisations and profit are largely about people management, yet strangely there was very little meaningful assistance available to Owners and Managers in this critical area.

That led to him founding Human Resource Catalyst seven years ago and subsequently co-founding the P1 Group.  Both businesses help owners and managers link strategy with practical people solutions that improve performance individually and collectively, resulting in increased profit.

Married with a 20 year old son, Raghav brings high energy and a good sense of humour to the table. He is a member of AHRI & GAICD.

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