A difficult employee – we all have experience of them…. at best draining, but left unchallenged, they can be downright toxic.

Being human, we will all have the odd day during our working lives when we don’t feel 100% or something at home or work is playing on our mind. As long as overall our contribution to the world of work and particularly our colleagues is positive and adds to the camaraderie, the odd minor grump can be overlooked. True ‘mood hoovers’ however,  can make for a more difficult employee, as they are entrenched in their behaviour. They are the people who are resistant to change and have an attitude that is negative about everything (and often everybody.) They can really detract from continuous improvement and drain energy from your team.

So how to deal with a difficult employee? Firstly, don’t recruit them! It sounds obvious, but not all recruitment processes can truly identify the right behaviours and values to ensure the necessary organisational ‘fit’. One poor recruitment choice can be costly, not just financially but also on morale. Businesses have even been known to lose their high performers who become disillusioned if the ‘mood hoover’ is allowed to wallow too much and for too long. Consider using experts like us to support you make the right recruitment decisions.

If your difficult employee or ‘mood hoover’ is already amongst the workforce. then it’s time to ensure the following;

  • Think about your organisational values and what these look like in actual people behaviours. For example, ‘Being a strong team player’ is a popular value.
  • Ideally, develop your business values in conjunction with your employees, so they truly buy into them and so that the values become part of the language that is used and understood across the business.
  • Develop a culture where it’s not just about what you do but how you do it.
  • The words you use in your values should reflect the culture of the organization. Whilst a charity might cover employee attitude by defining a value as ‘Being kind‘ a different type of business might say ‘Consideration of colleagues’ or ‘Respecting others’.
  • Your values should be reflected in peer reviews and recommendations, where those who are demonstrating the company values are recognized and rewarded. Those who don’t demonstrate them should then be the noticeable minority. Values such as ‘Open to change and ‘Positive contributor’ make it easier to challenge behaviour that doesn’t demonstrate what’s expected.

There are a few options for dealing with the mood hoover. One is to shower them with positivity and try to gently cajole/humour them back into a more positive mindset. If you are lucky, this might work, but what if it doesn’t?

If, for example, your mood hoover continues to make negative comments during or after a team brief, this allows an inroad for a more focused but still informal conversation at a 1-2-1 about this and what’s behind it – try asking ‘why do they feel like this’ and ‘what impact do they think this has on those around them?’

Heighten this by directly referring to specific examples of the behaviour not aligning to the values and ensuring they understand these are as much a part of an employee’s performance as tangible outputs. However, don’t we all know that often the mood hoover is often the one whose performance struggles to be the better side of acceptable? Do they know this? Are your managers having the necessary constructive conversations? Such honest and transparent conversations can often nip such behaviour in the bud. However, if it doesn’t, then together with evidence of further instances, it is possible to start to deal with this as misconduct.

It’s important to be sure there is no substance within the work environment contributing to the employee’s negative attitude. For example, say an employee who falls into the mood hoover category is disenfranchised by, for example, the lack of an across-the-board pay increase, whereas others accept the business reasons, this differs from a person who may feel aggrieved as their repeated requests for training on a new software package they are struggling to use has not been addressed without good reason. In fact, that might give them cause to raise a valid grievance.

With no outstanding issues of any merit to excuse mood-hoovering behaviour then it really becomes important to manage this fairly but firmly. If informal approaches haven’t worked, it will be time for the formal approach using the business’s disciplinary or possibly capability procedures. The structure of these procedures and how they are followed are crucial to ensuring an employer is able to resolve the issue with minimal risk of related claims.

Do you need guidance or a sounding board on handling tricky conversations? Are you confident are you that your procedures will help you, not trip you up? If addressing the challenge of a mood hoover feels outside of your comfort zone, or you want help developing and embedding your people values, we have a wealth of experience and solutions to support you and there’s rarely a situation we haven’t successfully dealt with before. Give us a call, we’d love to help.

For more information on HR for small businesses, or, get in touch with our team of HR Consultants today.

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