From some of our Benefits Cloud clients, we hear that they’ve either experienced, or are experiencing, problems with a staff member who is generally disruptive. Looking at this with our HR head on, we know that even with the best hiring process in the world, you could still end up with someone in your team that is causing issues. But from an owner/director of a small-to-medium business what does this look like?

Being disruptive can come in many shapes and sizes, for example:

  • Being disrespectful or inappropriate at work
  • Gossiping
  • Arguments or disagreements with their colleagues
  • Complaining about everything

These are just some of the ways someone on your workforce can be difficult to work with and manage. As a result of this type of behaviour, it could also affect their productivity and get in the way of them doing their job properly.

Other employees might not want to come forward to speak up about it for worrying about the consequences, and managers might not know how to deal with the issue. So, you can see how a disruptive worker can affect all aspects of your business. But whichever way it presents itself, disruptiveness is time and effort-consuming for all those involved. It’s a very easy situation to find yourself in, and to avoid.

This leads us to ask the question of ‘how do you deal with a disruptive employee?

  • Speak

Letting this employee know their behaviour is unacceptable is the first step to solving the issue. Let this conversation happen in a professional and neutral place and clearly tell them that their disruptive behaviour is becoming a problem. Provide specific examples of what they did and when, so your discussion is based on fact and remains objective – if you don’t, you risk an emotional response from the employee. Ideally, you’ll have defined a set of values for your business, which you can link behaviours back to. Using these to demonstrate what you expect and where their behavious deviats from the standards you’ve outlined, will help them to understand the issue more clearly. They will see what they can do to rectify the problem; this can often be brought to life with “do more of this” or “do less of that” examples. If they’re unable to positively contribute and not performing their job properly, then your next step will be disciplinary procedures.

  • Listen

It’s easy to stop listening to a disruptive employee to make your life easier in the short term, after all it’s just ‘white noise’ and if you ignore it, it might all go away! The reality is that further down the line when the problem has escalated, it will be even more difficult to deal with. There is often a reason behind how people act; call them in for a meeting and listen. Focus on them and what they’re saying and don’t forget body language!

A man and woman having a conversation in the office
  • Be kind!

Try to avoid negativity, instead showing care. There’s a well-used phrase that “sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.” We wouldn’t encourage you to be cruel, but do be honest. After listening, it’s time to work on a plan to resolve this issue. You can put steps in place for the employee to take to overcome the issue that has been making them disruptive. For example, if the disruptive employee isn’t getting along with other team members, you could encourage them to find common ground so that they have something constructive to talk about. Use positive language and try to get them to think about their impact on others, too.  

  • Keep a record

Although we recommend facing this situation in a personable way, also think about keeping a record of the progress. This isn’t you being negative, it’s purely practical for a number of reasons. It will really help to keep the employee focused and give them a clear direction but will also help to protect you and your company if the problem worsens.

  • Set consequences

You can be specific here and set consequences, or outcomes, so everyone involved is clear what’s going to happen. If disruptive employees don’t believe their behaviour will have any negative impact on them then why would they change? Say something like “I believe you can turn this around and as we’ve agreed, it’ll take X. Y and Z to achieve that. If I don’t see that by X date, then we may have to consider utilising the disciplinary process.

  • Be human

Always remember that you’re dealing with people, who may or may not have felt able to share everything else that’s going on in their life. Listen, be honest, help them to understand and give them the opportunity to turn things around. In certain situations, you might also want to think about a ‘cooling off period.’ If the disruptive behaviour has caused feelings to run high, can you do anything to separate the protagonists whilst the emotions settle, allowing everyone a bit of time to reflect? Reshuffling or moving people to another part of your business isn’t really the answer as you’re probably moving a problem, without really addressing the root cause.

As an owner/director of a small to medium business, you probably have a strong mind-set and the ability to make decisions and be confident in them. Dealing with disruptive employees can be a very difficult situation to deal with but the two most important things to remember are to always lead by example with a positive attitude and ensure you communicate clearly and honestly.

Your employees are only human so scratch the surface and you’ll probably find that there is a reason behind their disruptive behaviour.

Take these tips on board if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re faced with a disruptive employee, and you’ll be able to take control of the issue and deal with it in a professional and positive way.