Tips for managing difficult staff


Employers generally recognise them (sometimes with a sinking feeling) soon after they start employment: the workers that defy the norms, break the rules and wreak havoc complaining, whingeing and just being difficult.Human resources expert Di Armbrust offers her tips on how to deal with them.

Drawing from decades of experience working on the frontlines of human resource management, her newest book, The 2% Effect – Removing Complexity and Managing for High Performance, can help managers learn how to deal with the small number (the 2%) of staff that cause problems for those around them.

“Typically, managers have difficulty in dealing with these people – sometimes it is because of union involvement or having to deal with the complex employment laws, for others it is just the struggle of having to deal with the person. These people need to be managed because of the effect they have on the business and the other 98% of people in that business,” said Ms Armbrust.

“We need to consider the effect of these people on the business and the other 98% of people working in that business. This book is all about putting the human back into human resources.”

“Collaborating with my colleague Mark Shaw, I’ve written this book because there is a better way to manage people and to still achieve business goals. This book will help people understand the people risk to your business, where businesses have low people risk and how to leverage these low-risk people to improve profitability.”

Canstar Blue caught up with Ms Armbrust for a quick Q&A:

Q) How important is it for business owners to act quickly once they realise that they have a 2%er in the ranks?

A) In the case of a 2%er with behavioural issues, it is very important because the longer a poor behaviour is exhibited the harder it is to change as it becomes a set way of behaving. From a business perspective it is equally as important because the business is at risk as there usually is a 20% loss of productivity (approximately) of the people who interact with the 2%er on a daily basis – that’s one fifth of the wages bill of all those employees which is wasted due to the loss of productivity. The business is also at risk of losing good employees because they see their manager as a poor manager.

Q) Is there a risk of contagion; that the dissatisfied staff members can make some of the other staff unhappy?

A) We all know that emotionalism can breed emotionalism, therefore other employees can get swept up in the negative emotional tide however this is usually temporary. Generally most people (at varying times) will start to realise the person is sensationalising an issue or issues and some will pull back and try to not interact very much with the 2%er.

Others feel that it would be rude not to listen but just get frustrated with the 2%er. The point is that they usually all tire of the emotional drain of the 2%er however individuals might handle it differently. Eventually someone will stand up and ask their manager to deal with the 2%er. Whilst there are a lot of good managers out there, some managers hear what their team member is saying but don’t listen and the 2%er keeps on being a 2%er which perpetuates the risk to the business.

Q) Is there a way to easily spot 2%ers during the interview process, before you actually employ them?

A) With a robust recruitment process you can often spot a 2%er although it is possible that some can slip through. I talk about a ‘ducks in a row’ recruitment process – there are a number of steps to go through before hiring someone. Each step is designed to check and cross-check information to help the person undertaking the recruitment to determine why they shouldn’t employ a person – those recruiting should be looking for threads of information that will highlight whether the person is low risk or high risk.

There are always a 100 reasons why you should employ someone however a recruitment process should be about why you shouldn’t employ someone. It is time consuming to manage a 2%er once they are employed so there is the need to try to weed them out before they are employed. Recruitment processes should be considered as a risk management process.

It is about making sure that organisations get the right fit so that the organisation outcomes can be achieved with minimal disruption and the drain on productivity does not occur. In the book I outline what a robust recruitment process looks like.

Q) What do you hope business owners will gain from reading your book?

A) There are three things I hope that managers will gain from reading my book:

  • That a small number of people (2%) need to be managed but the other 98% only need to be led –

that is because these 98% can be trusted to get on and do the job as long as the manager has made it clear what needs to be done and their team know the parameters in which they need to operate.

  • They do not need to keep putting rules in place because of a small number of people who break the rules – they can strip layers of bureaucracy from the business (as long as they have governance controls and quality processes in place around critical failure points) if they build their systems for the 98% and manage the 2% by exception. This way they “enable” business and significantly improve productivity by unlocking the hidden capacity in their business.
  • They understand how to build a strong and efficient foundation for their business so it is more profitable and people will be engaged and therefore happy to come to work and do their job

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