Toxic but not terrible… a guide to dealing with difficult employees

How do you handle toxic employees whose behavior is disruptive and infuriating but not technically within the definition of ‘misconduct’?

A diverse workplace can bring together a great set of skills for the business, but savvy HR managers need to know how to handle toxic workplace behaviours.

The prolific social media junkie, the under-performing sensitive type, the workplace bully and the “touchy-feely office hugger” may be harming the business and lowering team morale, says Vanessa Anderson, partner at legal advisory firm Henry Davis York.

Successful HR managers need to walk a fine line between empowering employees and devising strategies to address and combat toxic behaviours, Anderson told the floor at a recent Employment Law workshop in Sydney.

In light of current employee protection provisions set out under the Fair Work Act, HR managers need to channel their powers of communication to achieve the best possible outcomes for the employee and the workplace. 

Holding a counselling session with the employee to discuss their unacceptable behaviours can be a positive alternative to hasty disciplinary action or employment termination.

“Employers can minimise risk by ensuring clear performance and review policies are in place to monitor staff performance, which can also act to empower and encourage an employee to deliver results,”  Anderson says.

Employers also have the responsibility to provide clear descriptions of unacceptable staff behaviour in an employment handbook, which will assist to encourage good conduct in the workplace.

Anderson says successful HR managers must implement short and longer term strategies for addressing and managing poor performance outcomes and difficult behaviour, while maintaining adequate documentation to record and monitor incidents if the difficult behaviour continues.

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