Tackling the minor workplace issues

In the workplace, it is inevitable that conflicts will sometimes arise.

Whether minor disagreements between colleagues over some trivial matter, or something more serious involving disciplinary action, dealing with discord is something employers will be well used to.

But in my experience, at the root of some of the bigger problems are seemingly small matters, which have escalated to the point where it becomes a challenge within an organisation.

Matters like time keeping, extended breaks, some aspects of behaviour – while appearing minor at first, over time they can manifest and impact on the wider team, sometimes seriously. And if it is a frontline care role, for example, there are also potentially implications for the client.

From initially seeming quite inconsequential, it can become the case that it leads to the termination of the employee’s contract – quite a serious consequence for something that once seemed like a minor annoyance.

So for that reason, I would urge employers to deal with the small stuff – address the more minor issues which impact on the running of the business and happiness of the wider team at the earliest possible stage, to avoid it becoming something that can hopefully be avoided.

Addressing minor issues can be difficult. If not handled carefully, this can inflame the situation – so keeping things cordial but professional is important.

This five-step process can be useful in addressing issues with employees:

  • Highlight the problem and why you are discussing it – be clear on why a certain aspect of behaviour is being addressed, and reaffirm to the employee what your expectations of them are
  • Give the employee a voice and listen to their reasoning – they may have valid reasons or personal issues which may be relevant
  • Work through the differences – use this as a chance to ‘clear the air’ and ensure both sides have their say
  • Identify solutions – find a way to resolve the issue while keeping dispute to a minimum, although be sure to take a firm line on what is expected from the employee
  • Keep channels of communication open – let them know your door is open if they need support with anything.

In my experience, handling things early and in an informal way initially, if circumstances permit, can be a valuable opportunity for resolution.

Keep in mind the efforts you went through to recruit the person, the time and resource you have invested in their training. If the issues are minor, then it is usually worth trying to find a way through.

For example – poor time keeping or attendance by an employee, a classic problem which can, over time, impact on productivity and engagement of a whole team.

By holding a face-to-face meeting at the earliest opportunity, as soon as this has presented as a problem, you can get to the root of the issue. Are they unreliable and don’t care? Or are they experiencing some underlying issues, and could benefit with some support, or time off to deal with these?

By getting to the heart of the matter through discussion, you can support your employee and make changes that will benefit their wider team and the business in general.

The consequences of not tackling the small stuff when you have the opportunity can end in disciplinary action, grievances and even dismissal – all of which are very time-consuming and costly, and can be very regrettable all round.

However, sometimes, despite your best efforts, the employee may not respond to your attempts to find a way forward, and further action may need to be taken.

Remember the four stages of disciplinary action:

  • Verbal warning
  • Written warning
  • Final written warning
  • Dismissal

Ideally, the initial, almost ‘pre-disciplinary’ stage, will help you resolve a minor issue to the satisfaction of everyone, and certainly to the benefit of the organisation and its clients – but if further action is needed, at least you have done your best to try and avoid an escalation.

For help in dealing with any employment matters, contact Embrace HR for support on 01296 761 288 or email admin@embracehr.co.uk