“This Job Would be Easy If I Didn’t Have to Deal with Staff.”

September 20, 2018


I was talking to a friend recently who is the manager of a team of trainers in the IT industry. My friend described themselves as a “fire fighter” and by that they meant they were spending most of their time putting out “fires” between staff or responding to difficult staff members. Indeed, this is a common refrain from people who manage staff and we often hear the phrase, “this job would be easy if I didn’t have to deal with staff”.

We have all had to deal with colleagues who are consistently late, unreliable, argumentative, micro-managing bosses, time wasting gossipers, know-it-alls, etc., etc. The list of counterproductive and annoying behaviours is endless.

The question is, what can be done about it?

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do about, unfortunately, it is difficult to resolve the problem with one blog post. The solution requires more than a blog post that posits “5 easy steps…blah blah”. If it was that easy it wouldn’t be a pervasive workplace issue.

Dealing with difficult staff is a process; it is having the correct systems and procedures in place right from the beginning of the employment cycle. This means effective recruitment, proper induction or onboarding, and ongoing training and staff development. Humans are socials beings with a variety of agendas, motivations and goals. When these are combined with the complexity of the workplace and modern day living, creating a workplace that fosters harmony and productivity is an ongoing challenge. It is certainly more than reading a few tips and then quickly forgetting them.

The correct system and process means having an effective recruitment process, one that informs any potential new staff member of the organisation’s code of conduct, values and acceptable behaviours, as well as an honest understanding of the demands of the role. An effective recruitment process requires you to gather the best available data about candidates that will predict future performance, such as aptitude testing, personality or behavioural profiling, observation of incidental behaviours, CV and referee checks, and interviews.

Once you have identified a good candidate through your recruitment process, the next step in turning them into great employees starts with a proper induction or onboarding process. This is fundamental in setting the tone of the workplace and moving the good candidate from being a stranger to a group member.

Finally, all staff need ongoing development through a combination of formal and informal practices. This is achieved through ongoing learning and development opportunities and regular reviews by their direct line manager. Part of this professional development is allowing staff to have a sense of autonomy and them having a say in how they do their job. Staff need to relate to each other as friends, colleagues and co-workers, supporting each other and helping to get the job done.

If these systems and procedures are in place, then dealing with difficult staff is much easier and has a much less emotional toll on everyone.