The challenges of incompatibility

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“We’ve tried everything to make our employment relationship work. We’ve set standards, we’ve held the person to account, we’ve provided coaching, training and a heap of other things to help them be successful in the role.

We’ve talked openly about the impact of their behaviour on others, and the difficulties others have working with the employee and it’s just not getting better – in fact it’s getting worse as the relationship becomes more toxic.”

Does this sound familiar?  From time to time employers reach the end of their tether and patience in dealing with difficult team members. To be fair, sometimes the employer is the problem or has created the problem in the first place – but for the purposes of this article, I am talking about the genuinely self-absorbed, lacking emotional intelligence employee who is quite frankly painful, toxic and really needs to find another job.

Quite simply, there is no simple answer or quick fix to this problem. Someone said to me the other day “can’t we just let them go”. The short answer is yes but it can be an expensive remedy. If you have a large budget, then yes, it’s an option. So, what can you do if you’re an employer with an employment relationship that has turned so sour that you can’t work together anymore?

Firstly, don’t do this on your own – get help and advice about what you can and can’t do. It will save you money in the long run.

Next, you must be upfront and have the hard conversation. “We have a significant problem in our employment relationship, and I need to discuss this with you”.   

Get everything out, document your concerns and start the process of meeting with the troublesome employee.  Don’t meet alone, make sure you have the right support with you and, again, get advice before you start. More importantly, encourage your employee to also have a support person attend meetings so you can have open and frank conversations about what’s not working and why. If you’re opening up and having difficult conversations, bring everything to the table and be very clear about what impact their behaviour or performance is having on the workplace, your clients, other team members or even financial performance of the business.  Now, this might sound hard, but you will be doing your business and your difficult employee a favour in the long run.   

Right, so you’ve got everything out and you’ve been transparent about what needs improvement and how they can improve, but nothing changes.  In fact, it’s now to the point where you dread going to work and the employee is also miserable, or worse still infecting others in your business with their unhappiness. My best advice I could offer at this stage of the journey is to arrange mediation. Quickly. You have a defined employment relationship problem and mediation is often the best way to have the matters addressed, and hopefully resolved. There are several ways you can mediate – either directly with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment or through other mediation services that offer support in the business community. Trust me, some of the best outcomes we’ve achieved over the years have been due to the support of mediation. Mediation is where an independent person called a mediator helps resolves an employment relationship problem in a semi-formal and confidential environment.   

You don’t have to keep struggling with untenable and incompatible employment relationships. Being a people leader can have its challenges, but it should be a rewarding experience and not something you dread. It is hard to have those hard and confronting conversations, but ultimately you don’t have to go there on your own. I would highly recommend mediation services when you’ve tried everything else.

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About Author

Senga Allen

Human Resource specialist and managing director, Everest Group Ltd Waikato HR Specialists www.everestgroup.co.nz