Are your staff running rings around your managers? 6 top tips to take back control!

At Jaluch it is to our constant frustration that we see the stress, irritation and angst that comes from having one ore more employees running rings around their Manager. So here are six top tips to stop people messing you around and wasting valuable time and energy … it’s more than time you learnt how to take back control.

The following top tips represent a few of our ideas on the issues. But please do be careful as each and every situation needs to be considered in its own right and specific advice sought where necessary. These are complicated issues and we work in complex times so if in doubt, ask and check before leaping straight in!

  1. I’m going off sick to avoid having to attend a disciplinary investigation or hearing

Who is managing who? If you feel your employee is managing you, its time to step back and rethink your strategy. You have got to stay in charge and not feel like a victim or act as though things have spiralled out of your control. Get the control back!

If you are supported by a risk averse HR person or legal advisor with no commercial understanding then they no doubt will advise you that your hands are tied and you just have to be patient and wait it out. Endless wasted time and money organising meetings and sending letters out whilst the employee smirks behind your back. So many in HR and the legal profession think businesses just play with monopoly money and the money can always be found from somewhere. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As an example, if an employee fails to turn up to a formal meeting claiming illness, then write to them to set up a new date, but this time include in the letter that the meeting will go ahead in their absence if they continue to be off sick but stating that they are of course encouraged to either submit written a statement ahead of that meeting and or nominate a suitable representative (i.e. either another colleague or a trade union representative)  to attend  to make representation  on their behalf.

You might give them two chances before taking this more business led approach if the issue might result in their dismissal, or you might even take this approach in your very first letter if they have a history of calling in sick to avoid meetings and you want to pre-empt that. Different things for different people and situations, but take back the control as it is very dangerous indeed when your chosen approach to managing the difficult staff leaves managers looking weak and indecisive.

  1. Your behaviour as my manager is affecting my mental health and wellbeing

Again, who is managing who? You cannot afford to let the threats of an employee undermine you as a manager. As a manager you have responsibilities and a job to do and if that makes people feel uncomfortable at times, then that is their problem, not yours…provided of course you are respectful and use appropriate language.

As an example, if an employee says they don’t like you holding them to account (e.g. over missed sales targets or their child like emotional responses to issues) and that, in raising the issue you are making them stressed, then say that you are sorry they are stressed but you would not be doing your job if you did not seek to ensure every person you manage is held accountable for what is expected of them. For, if you don’t hold individual members of a team accountable then the reality is that you are not doing your job properly and you are jeopardising the ongoing success and future of the whole team. This really is learning for all of us, so don’t ever feel you are behind the curve on this!

If you use respectful language then you are not creating a mental health problem for them. The mental health problem is being created by their not having learned how to accept and respond to feedback or criticism or to step up and be accountable in the first place.

Resilience coaching may be needed?  You might also consider accountability training across the board so that everyone understands that individual accountability is not an optional extra if they are working within a team. As part of accountability training your managers will learn about setting expectations and then managing in line with those expectations.

  1. If you discipline me, I will accuse you of being a bully

Again, we often see managers stepping back from doing what they know they need to do as a result of employees threatening them with a grievance or accusation of being a bully. Whilst we recognise that a grievance claim can be time consuming and costly to investigate and manage, is there not a greater cost if you lead your managers to believe that they cannot properly discipline their staff when the need arises and, in so doing, create a situation for your them where all control is relinquished, leaving managers ‘toothless’ and disrespected.

In this ‘its all about me world’, bitter or hostile employees think nothing of seeking to destroy another person’s self esteem or happiness in order to shout to the world about the injustices they feel they have faced. There is no filter used when launching into the personal attacks we see on managers and business leaders, but managers need to stand up to these employee ‘bullies’ who call themselves ‘victims’ and take back control. For, if they don’t, there is no accountability at all.

If you have a culture of people playing ‘victim’ why not ask us about our training for managers ‘Better Understanding the People’. A session that is all about managing conflict and people issues, challenging those who view themselves as ‘victim’, understanding how to move people from child like responses to adult behaviours and influencing team members to bring their best selves to work.

  1. You can’t say you have a culture of flexibility, but then say I can’t work the hours that suit me best

Again, in this modern world people tend to hear only what suits them and then tune out all that doesn’t suit them. We have all been there and done that! If you are setting out what your culture is for staff be very clear to highlight the responsibilities that accompany the benefits and employment rights you offer your employees.

As an example, if you say ‘we are proud of the flexible culture we have here’, be clear to also say ‘and that means that where we can, we offer our employees the flexibility they need but, at the same time we expect our employees to be flexible with us too, to ensure we are sustainable and profitable, as that benefits everyone and without it we will become unsustainable as a business which would jeopardise everyone’s jobs’.

But if you didn’t say ‘and that works both ways’, on the assumption that was understood from the start, don’t be bullied by your employee who is just focussing on their needs. Your ultimate responsibility is always to the trustees or the shareholders of the business and you need to put their interests first – which usually means that you have to manage in a way that is in the best interests of the business, not in the best interests of individual employees – however much they lash out at you for not giving them exactly what they want.

  1. Home working is a benefit I have a right to and you can’t say no, otherwise I’ll sue you

Let’s be really clear about home working, it is an employee’s right to request it, as it is for any request for flexible working no obligation on you to give it providing you have given it sensible consideration. However, if you do agree to it, the employee must be able to commit to working from home without juggling their work for you with other responsibilities such as caring for children, elderly relatives, dog walking or random hamsters (it has been known). They should be as focussed on your work as they would be if they were on your premises. This is your right and this is their responsibility.

This does not generally apply of course if they are home working and measured and rewarded on outputs (tasks achieved) rather than inputs (time at desk).

However, if you have an employee who is taking the micky, to take back control, ensure you have a really clear policy on home working and what that means in terms of focus, engagement, not doubling up on your time as a cook, cleaner, home carer or anything else. Plus, don’t hesitate to set standards for the management of background noise when they are on the phone, dress code for video conferencing and logging on times etc. If you need one, download a good home working policy.

We are also aware that quite often people ask for more home working after initial home working has been agreed. Its one of those areas where there is a lot of ‘creep’ and all of a sudden one day you realise that your employee is never around and not known by any of their newer colleagues.  At this point, despite having insisted that home working was the only possible solution for them, they suddenly submit a grievance accusing you of not communicating with them enough and leaving them out of development or promotion opportunities.

All too often employees begin to feel isolated after long periods of home working and then they kick back at you or perhaps, worse still, just let their productivity steadily drop off before then resigning their position. Be aware of this and never let your employees dictate the level of home working they do or turn a blind eye to home working ‘creep’.  If you think that what they are asking for will have consequences in terms of isolation, productivity, communications etc sit down and talk to them about this. Don’t just let it happen!

  1. I like the job title and money that goes with my job, but don’t think I’m prepared to shoulder any responsibility

We are not sure how this has come about, but at some point in the past 10 years people started accepting pay increases and promotions without any thought in their head that there are responsibilities that come with the extra money and/or the impressive job title. But this has become an increasing problem in organisations and probably why more and more of the searches on our website are for accountability training. How do you get people to take responsibility?

Our advice here, given that this problem seems to have crept up on us all, is to ensure that in your meeting to discuss a new opportunity, take some proper time to discuss the responsibilities that come with the money and job title.  In a training session we ran last year for a client that was open to those looking to make their first step up into a line management/supervisory role, we were asked to raise awareness of the responsibilities that came with the job. As a result of that training a number of the attendees said they had changed their minds about taking on a new role. Disappointing, you might say, but surely it’s better to find out before they are in the role than afterwards, with the frustrations beginning to bite when targets and goals are not being met or people not being managed?

As another word of warning on this topic, if you have been dishing out lovely job titles as part of your retention strategy to keep the more junior people on board, then just take a bit of time to think through the long-term consequences of this. If responsibility is not attached to the job title what job titles are you going to give people who do also have to shoulder various responsibilities. Is it any wonder that some employees think there are no responsibilities attached to great job titles when that has been their previous experience?

If you have any questions about any of the content of this HR Blast then please do get in touch with us. We love to help our clients solve problems and take back control.

Jaluch’s commercial HR and Training services include:

  • Template documents for all HR needs – letters, home working and other policies, contracts (available from our sister site).
  • Support with investigations, discipline, sickness issues and responding to flexible working and other employee requests
  • Monthly retainers or pay as you go options available for advice and HR support.
  • Numerous courses and workshops to ensure your managers are competent and confident when managing
  • Training kits for in house delivery of courses by your own team.
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