Mopping Up The Mess When Staffing Issues Go Pear Shaped

when staffing issues go pear shaped Welcome to this HR Blast from Jaluch. In this Blast we take a few minutes to look at how the UK’s business corridors are often filled with the (metaphorically) mangled, angry or lifeless bodies of both staff and HR when issues go pear shaped and what you can do to clear up the mess (or bring them back to life!)

There are numerous ways in which things can go wrong. Sometimes its down to the manager, sometimes it’s down to company culture or procedure and sometimes it’s down to HR. But there’s no point in crying over spilt milk, instead, what can you do to sort it out? Here are just some of issues we encounter at Jaluch… how about you take a big fat marker as you read through and highlight all those that could cause grief in your organisation?

The Issues…

Should have thought through the consequences

  • Misconduct or performance Dismissals dressed up as redundancies – because somehow, that felt more comfortable.
  • Performance or conduct Issues left unmanaged for years (or even decades) due to a misguided belief that problems solve themselves and difficult staff tend to resign (oh no they don’t!)
  • Set a precedent of paying people off if they misbehave, but now any employee wanting to resign decides it’s better to kick up a fuss and then ask to be paid off.
  • Overpaid an employee and now they are under performing or unhappy at work but they find they can’t resign as no one in the market will match their salary.

Should have stayed silent

  • A hasty decision made about redundancies or organisational change, is then hastily communicated and becomes a local PR disaster when it emerges how staff feel about it all.
  • Untrained managers who know absolutely ‘zippo’ about employment law, tell their difficult staff exactly what they think of them and dig you right into a constructive dismissal or discrimination ‘hole’.

Should have known better

  • Correct procedure NOT followed when it should have been (redundancy, discipline, contract changes, TUPE etc.) and now the employee’s upset and threatening legal action.
  • Manager holds an informal meeting about something that should definitely have been handled formally and presents HR with a fait accompli – oops.
  • Employee on long term sick leave, maternity leave etc. hears that their job is being advertised.

Shouldn’t have allowed fears, lack of time or laziness to impact the way they managed

  • Ignored a grievance, either inadvertently or deliberately – and that’s now come back to bite you big time in the proverbial ‘derriere’.
  • Decisions are made (disciplinary warnings, rejection after interview, salary uplifts, promotions etc.) but someone forgot to action or send the paperwork out.

And this of course is just the tip of the iceberg. What else have you seen during your working lives?

Mopping up the Mess

But critically, of course, is what you do to mop up the mess, once it has occurred.

As a manager or as an HR professional there are a few ‘escape’ options available to you. These come primarily in the form of:

  • Appeals
  • Line in the sand meetings
  • Apologies

All three are probably seriously underutilised which is a wasted opportunity, given that the alternative is usually costly resignations, costly legal action, reduced productivity from unhappy staff, stressed out line managers etc.


You messed up with a procedure, managing an employee or in making a decision…

If you offer most staff a right to appeal – even if strictly speaking you don’t need to – you will create for yourself a get out of jail free card.

The appeal (given to them in writing so you have evidence of your attempt to put things right) is your opportunity to set things right. The appeal allows you to go back to the beginning and do it professionally, to follow the right procedure, to investigate more fully, to properly hear the employee’s views or version of events, to correct the wording of a letter etc.

If you messed up first time around but then do it properly during the appeal, your employee is unlikely to be able to make a claim against you, or leave the process feeling that they weren’t treated fairly and appropriately.

And the more you messed up first time around, the more time you should give to the appeal process this time around. Effort now is likely to reap dividends later.

Line in the Sand

It’s really not uncommon for issues to be left unmanaged for many years, or even decades in some instances. And we’re talking about things such as bad language, endless sickies, lack of respect, petty pilfering, low productivity etc. But it doesn’t matter if it’s not been managed, as the past is the past. However, how long you have left it for does not impact your ability to manage it now.  HOWEVER, you don’t just charge in, determined to sort it once and for all. Do not explode with an ‘enough is enough’ and here’s the front door!

What you need to do is have a meeting that we call a ‘line in the sand’ meeting. This meeting is about acknowledging what has not been managed in the past or what has not been managed properly in the past. Being clear about what was not acceptable and being clear that it was not managed as it should have been. But then going on to say that as of today, you expect the employee to behave and be managed in line with company procedures and expectations. Talk through the required behaviours, and show them the relevant company procedures at this meeting.

After today, you now have the ability to manage them in line with company procedures, without them being able to claim that your management of them is unfair, unlawful or bullying.


First things first… an apology is not a weakness in today’s world, it is a strength!

It is a strength because it is often critical to rebuild damaged relationships, it shows emotional maturity, it acknowledges the other person’s hurt, it provides an opportunity to put things right.

It really doesn’t matter if you think that an apology is due…

If you have a manager, director, HR Person or employee who still does not grasp the power of an apology this could be seriously costing your business. If so, we might recommend some training in emotional intelligence. Many people do not have high emotional intelligence. In saying that it is not a criticism, it’s just the way it is, so our suggestion of training here is a serious one! Why not ask us about it?

Here are a few situations that might easily be remedied with an apology…

  • I shouldn’t have done, but I made an assumption you didn’t want to come back from maternity leave which is why I advertised your job…
  • I didn’t know that when you said you were unhappy that you were in fact raising a grievance about xyz, I should have given you more time to explain… I assure you that it will now be managed formally as it should have been done when you first raised it.
  • Due to not having dealt with this situation before I did not realise xyz procedure should have been followed. In hindsight I should have checked and I recognise that not doing so has…
  • I was under pressure and can see in hindsight that a decision was made in haste.
  • I was told about what you posted on Instagram and now I realise I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions but instead should have done the courtesy of asking you about it…
  • I see that the manager handled this badly and insensitively and for that I apologise as I recognise the impact it has had on you. Going forwards we intend to…

Its really not complicated but an apology can achieve so much so easily if only managers recognised the value of it and put aside their egos. You do of course need to be wary of giving your employee the evidence they need to bring a legal case against you so why not test what you want to say with an HR person or Director, but don’t steer clear of an apology when the consequences of doing so could be expensive and long lasting.

To finish, we thought we could tell you about a disgruntled ex employee who had threatened his employer with a tribunal. He said that it could though all be settled via a Settlement agreement. When it came to discussing his terms, rather than ask for a large pile of money, he said he wanted a decent reference and a verbal apology that he had been badly treated. The most expensive thing in that settlement agreement that protected his former employer was the paper it was written on and the lawyer who charged to approve it for him. Never underestimate the power – and value – of a meaningful apology!

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

to top button