Self-Destructive Behavior – When Your Employees Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Employee Handbook Training - Marshall Atkinson

It’s all over the news these days and centered mostly on big-time athletes.  Physical abuse, substance abuse, theft, even murder make the headlines constantly.  There are plenty of discussions about these online, and I’m sure you may have read or participated in some of these.  It’s really sad, but not so surprising.  Human beings are prone to mistakes, make dumb decisions, and for some reason, will lead themselves down roads they don’t need to be traveling.  Who knows why?

For your company, you might have to deal with the foibles of the human condition too.  People aren’t robots.  How you deal with people and mistakes they make can play a big part in how successful your company can become.  Here are some thoughts that might help you when you have to struggle through a challenge:

First, get the facts.  Be completely neutral.  If you have a camera set up in your shop, review the tape.  Read all the e-mails, check the browser history, whatever it takes get all of the real, documented evidence that you can muster.  If you are asking questions of other staff members, do so in a way that doesn’t lead them one way or another for their account.  You may get conflicting or incomplete information.  Sometimes situations get messy, and are loaded with a lot of drama.  The best thing you can do as a manager or owner is segregate yourself from that and pull together as much information as you can.

Make some notes.  If the situation warrants itself, you may need to discuss the situation with an attorney or HR professional.  It’s ok to realize that you are not an expert and seek out guidance.  You want to be fair to your employees, but you also need to protect yourself legally.

Some situations may result in instant termination.  Violence in the workplace, theft, working under the influence, or other major challenges will be problems where you will want to instantly terminate the employee.  But what do you do for an employee that is just constantly late, violates your company rules, or goes through a streak with lots of expensive mistakes?

You need to understand what’s behind the issue.  Are there external factors that are contributing to the problem?  Maybe the employee’s car is broken, and they are now taking the bus to work.  Possibly there is a sick family member, or they have a newborn baby and that is hurting their work effectiveness as mentally they aren’t concentrating on their work.  A frank and open discussion behind closed doors in your office can help you understand what’s behind the shift in behavior with your employee.  As a leader in your company you need to wrap your arms around the situation, and let your employee know that you care about them, that their behavior affects how the company runs, and that you want to work together with the employee to correct the situation.

If you don’t already have an employee handbook for your company, I would suggest creating one.  There are plenty of resources available to you for this, including some excellent guidelines and templates by SGIA.  A proactive approach allows you to set the tone on how you will deal with certain situations.  This information should be disseminated to your employees when they are hired, and communicated to current employees with some training.  You are setting clear expectations on the rules and your staff will know that they will be held accountable.

Then comes the tough part; actually holding your employees accountable!  This means discipline, even when you personally like the employee.  Be fair.  Be understanding.  That’s why you try to obtain all the facts beforehand.  Have that dialog with your employee about the challenge.  In the end you may need to suspend the employee, or even terminate them for the behavior.  Your other employees are watching.  They talk.  You can’t play favorites.  Firm, but fair is how you need to operate.

Some shops only have a few employees; others staff several shifts and have several times more.  Regardless of your company staff size, the leadership in your company sets the tone.  Without a doubt, sooner or later one or some of your employees are going to have difficulties and will present a situation that will need to be addressed.  Don’t let the challenge spiral out of control, but instead get on top of it early.  Sometimes it is going to be a really tough situation with incredible drama.  If you can’t handle it yourself, reach out to professionals that can assist you.


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