Why you should thank your most challenging employees

I had an experience with a client recently who had a challenging employee on his team.

The employee took latitude after latitude, and after some months of breaking the rules and the expectations for him in his role and clearly taking advantage of a benevolent employer, he promptly resigned and disappeared before lunch on the day that he quit.

Needless to say, the business owner was none too impressed and little concerned because the employee actually had a company vehicle including tools and equipment valued at many thousands of dollars and was uncontactable on his work phone, as well as the fact that there were jobs booked for him that day that went unattended to.

The employee actually resigned via text message to his employer, and the employer while he couldn’t reach him on the phone sent a text back requesting that he return the company vehicle and the tools by 5pm that day.

The employee arrived back at the workshop just after 5, told the employer how disappointed he was that his boss didn’t understand his need for some time out that afternoon and instructed that they pay him his 2 weeks owing in spite of the fact that he owed the business more than a $1000 for tools and equipment purchased on the company account. He proceeded to walk home in the rain.

Why should we be thankful to employees like this?

The thing about employees is that by and large they don’t think like business owners. That might seem like a pretty obvious thing to say, but in my almost 10 years of working with tradies helping them with recruitment, team leadership, setting targets, training people, and everything else to do with getting a high performing team in place is that employees don’t think like employers.

I’ve read all the books, well may be not all of them, about building a great team and how to be a fantastic inspiring leader and how we really need to work with our people and train them and give them opportunities to grow, but the sad reality is that many employees don’t respond to these strategies.

Unfortunately for the tradies employing them, this gets dragged on and on to the point where the worker is unproductive, the business owner is out of pocket and frustrated, and the relationship is never going to end in anything but the sour, negative exchange that I outlined above.

What I’ve come to believe and advise my clients is as soon as you notice an employee “going off the rails,” you need to nip that in the butt.

The first step is to pull that person aside in a gentle but firm way and address the issues that you have with them or the negative behaviour that you’ve observed. Putting this off only makes the issue worse and harder to deal with, and create even more of the confrontation that you were probably avoiding in the first place.

Nip things in the bud early, and sometimes you can actually help turn people around and bring awareness to them about their behavior and how it’s likely to affect their future and obviously the future of your business. If that doesn’t work and things return to the way they were with the undesirable behaviors and the employee literally taking the mickey, then the only thing left to do is pretty much put an ultimatum on the table requesting that those behaviors be rectified in a certain time period, usually 30 days, and monitor that person closely during that time.

One of two things will usually happen.

That employee will resign, because they can see that they’re not going to meet the expectations and while they’ll blame you as the employer for making their life difficult and being unreasonable, you will at least avoid the stash that may ensue if you are forced to let that person go because of unsatisfactory performance.

The last straw is if they go the 30 days and still don’t improve, no resign, then you’re left with the only option of either making their position redundant if you genuinely restructure your business or you actually counsel that person on the decision that it is best if they don’t stay. Perhaps you’re lucky enough that they’ll resign at that point or you need to issue the warnings or relevant advice to them under the award that they’re employed under and then finish them up and find a fantastic team member to take their place.

You should really be thankful to these people.

Firstly for teaching you how to deal with it right and say the uncomfortable things that need to be said early in the piece, and secondly if they do leave for creating the space for a great team member to fill that position and help you take your business forward with a truly winning team.

By Warrick Bidwell – Tradies VA