How To Train Dragons

I was reminded if the name of this fantasy film when I dealt with our latest case of an employee who is not meeting her employer’s expectations, but the employer is showing great nervousness about dealing with it. It’s a very typical scenario.

A manager, Jeanette, has worked with a small manufacturing company for four or five years. Initially, the appointment worked well, but for the last two-three years there have been some concerns.

These are:

  • rudeness and behaviour to other employees (and even clients) which verges on bullying.
  • a refusal to share information or delegate tasks.
  • a refusal to carry out certain tasks.

Jeanette has told you she is dyslexic. We don’t know the degree to which it affects her, though she seems to be able to write documents and spreadsheets effectively and accurately. She is also suffering from depression, for which we understand she is taking medication, and has a serious knee injury which adversely affects her mobility. All of these conditions are capable of being a disability, so we need to gather some more data to see how much she is impacted and what we can do to reasonably help her.

As most employers do, our client had hoped that by giving clear informal guidance that Jeanette would step up to the mark to meet its requirements. She has just gone on as before with no change to her performance or conduct. This has been the subject of regular structured, noted, informal conversations for some time. However, it has never been addressed formally and sometimes that’s what it needs. They dread moving to a formal discussion as there is a real risk that she will not respond well to a formal disciplinary situation and become a real fire breathing dragon!

There is no dispute that there is a problem here, but repeated informal meetings have not worked. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. There’s little option but to make it a formal disciplinary matter. Unless we do so, in the worst-case scenario, any employment tribunal would take the view that the absence of formal meetings suggests she is a model employee. Remember that discipline is about encouraging employees to commit to meet our standards. The client needs to give some thought to making this as positive a process as possible, recognising what she does do well and asking and helping her to raise her game where she does not.

I suggested that they take a two-pronged approach. Because the client had not addressed earlier problems, even though they were known, we can’t go back in time. It wouldn’t be fair to Jeanette who may not remember incidents and may not be able to comment on them. We agreed that we would start collecting evidence of problems in the workplace

We can explore Jeanette’s medical conditions. We need to know more about them so we can help her. Apart from anything else, being in pain makes one bad tempered and can be a drag on performance. The dyslexia, depression and or knee injury may be undermining her performance or conduct. We need to find out more.

I have suggested that the client has a meeting with her to find out about the various medical conditions. In each case, we want to find the following.

  • What caused the condition (applicable to depression and knee injury)?
  • What impact they are having on her day-to-day?
  • What she can do?
  • What she can do for a short time or only with difficulty? What she can’t do at all?
  • What medication she is taking or treatment she is receiving?
  • What side effects there are?
  • What her doctor says about the prognosis.
  • Is she seeing a consultant?
  • What is she himself doing to alleviate the situation and aid her recovery?
  • What reasonable adjustments can we make to help her?

Taking things a step at a time is a reasonable, reasoned way to progress and it will get results.

Fighting employment dragons can be lonely and scary. If you need help, we’ll be happy to buckle on our armour and support you! Call us today if any of your employees are giving you a problem and you want to resolve it.

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