Have you ever had that employee? 
The one who was put on this earth just to be the bane of your life? 
Whose every move – every breath even, is designed for the sole purpose of making your life a misery? 
Maybe they are absent a lot. Or uncooperative. Perhaps they leave a trail of devastation and miserable co-workers in their wake every day. It could even be that they have an illness or condition that – if they even, genuinely, suffer from it at all - you are sure they are using to take advantage of you. 
A lot of the accidental managers I work with have an employee like this. 
Often the manager says the employee has been trouble from day one, or very soon after. 
And our conversation usually goes like this. 
Manager: “This is completely unacceptable behaviour. Can I sack them?” 
Me: “I agree - the behaviour is unacceptable. Have you ever told them you have a problem with their actions?” 
Manager: “Yes, we’ve had loads of conversations about it. They know how I feel”. 
Me: “Great. When did you last discuss it?” 
Manager: “Not sure, probably a month or so ago”, 
Me: “That’s good. Can I see the records of the conversations you’ve had?” 
Manager: “Er… I don’t have any records.” 
Me: “Did you ever send an email after any of these conversations to summarise what had been said?” 
Manager: “No, but I did tell them. They know. I know they know. I can tell by the way they look at me.” 
Me: “But without an email or written record it’s your word against theirs. You can’t prove they know about the gap between their behaviour and your expectations.” 
Manager: “But I must be able to sack them, surely? It can’t be right that I can’t sack an employee after the way this one has behaved? The world has gone mad. How can I run a business like this? Employees have too many rights…..” 
Honestly. From the bottom of my heart. I hate saying “No, not yet” to managers who have reached breaking point over the actions (or lack of them) of one of their employees. 
Just as much as you hate hearing it. 
When it comes to the balance of power between employees and managers, contrary to what some HR companies (who, let’s be honest here, have an interest in scaring you into buying their expensive, 5 year contracts and Tribunal protection) will tell you, it is employers who have the most power in the employment relationship. 
Employers decide whether someone is hired or fired. 
Employers decide what they will pay employees. 
Employers decide working hours, working practices, what equipment has to be used, what processes have to be followed, holiday booking arrangements, minimum levels of cover, overtime requirements, who gets promoted or trained, and who gets overlooked. 
Employers decide the rules about acceptable levels of attendance, appropriate behaviour at work, and standards of performance. 
When it comes to problems with performance, attendance or behaviour, the only rights employees have are to be told what is expected of them, and to be treated fairly and reasonably in line with the Company’s policies if they don’t meet those standards. 
Record keeping is a fundamental part of the manager’s role, and if you can get into the habit of following up conversations by emailing a quick summary of your discussion to the employee, and asking them to reply to say they agree with the summary or to add anything that was missed out, you'll have sufficient proof that the conversation took place. 
And having that evidence means you’ll be able to see exactly how many times you’ve had that conversation, and know when it is time to move from informal approaches to more formal action. And you'll know long before you reach the end of your tether. 
In fact, in my experience, employees usually welcome a written summary of what they need to do. It's a useful reminder of exactly what is expected, and most will start working immediately on changing their behaviour or performance. 
The majority of employees just want some direction, and a clear understanding of what you want them to do. And then they can do it. 
You’ll rarely need to take any formal action. You'll just get employees who know what you want them to do, and will work hard to do it. 
If you'd like to learn, or brush up, on the skills that make a great manager, have a look at our 1:1 coaching for Accidental Managers. 
Or our HR Consultancy services can help if you have a difficult employee situation that you don't know how to handle. 
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