Managing problem staff

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Dr. Mark Eagleton, owner of Vetlink Employment Service (www.vetlink.com.au), says that while some people are able to self-regulate, you should work on the assumption that everyone in your practice needs to be actively managed.

This, of course, includes the rather undesirable task of holding staff accountable for their actions. “In other industries where people are on bonus systems, if they haven’t done what they’re supposed to do, they don’t get their bonus,” says Eagleton. To hold vet staff accountable you need to be able to clearly measure performance across previously agreed criteria. You also need to communicate—and follow through on—the consequences of poor performance.

Dr Carl Jarrett, practising vet and director of Carlton Professional Recruitment (www.carltonprofessional.com.au), says you must prepare for these kinds of problems before they arise by establishing clear workplace protocols. Specifically, he recommends putting together a folder of written procedures on all aspects of staff performance including goals and targets, case work-up protocols, client care, disciplinary systems, on-time performance, and individual presentation. This folder should be accessible to staff and regularly reviewed and referenced.

“In my experience, the more protocols a practice has in place, the more people know what is expected of them,” says Jarrett. “They also make it very easy for a manager to identify a staff member who has stepped outside the margin.”

Regular, well-structured staff meetings allow all parties to communicate and solve problems together, but Jarrett says you need to be meeting all the time—not just when a problem appears. Similarly, one-on-one meetings are an opportunity to provide regular feedback so that team members have the opportunity to continuously learn and improve.

According to Eagleton, one of the simplest and most effective ways to steer staff behaviour is to set a good example. If you want your staff to be neat and tidy, dress professionally and work hard all day, he says, it is essential you are seen to be doing the same. Of course, many conflicts are not this simple. So, how do you deal with a staff member who is damaging your business?

Jarrett says every position should have an employment contract outlining performance expectations and disciplinary procedures. The terms of such contracts are often dictated by statute, and may include information on your ‘warning’ system, or rules about who can attend disciplinary meetings (the presence of a neutral third party witness is usually advisable).

When considering termination, both Jarrett and Eagleton agree that it is essential to seek the advice of an employment lawyer. Spending those few dollars early on will ensure you’re not left with hefty legal bills down the track. Depending on the complexity of the case, Eagleton estimates that a good employment lawyer should be able to tell you what you need to know in less than half an hour.

Situations like this are often highly emotionally charged but Jarrett says it can cost up to $5000 to replace a problem staff member so, ideally, it’s better to work on reaching an outcome that both parties are happy with. “I think in every case or certainly the vast majority of cases, we’ve managed to work around and get productivity improved,” says Jarrett, “Once that person is aware what needs to be improved, they improve.”

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