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7 common HR problems and top tips

Don't wait for a HR issue to come up in your business before you plan how to handle it. Use these tips to prepare for 7 common HR problems.

You will learn

  • How to handle grievances and misconduct
  • What to do about absences
  • What to do if you've recrutied the wrong person

Managing your staff can be a headache, but it is something you will have to know how to do in order to make sure your employees are always productive and safe in your workplace. To help make it a bit easier for you, we have pulled together 7 of the most common HR problems and given you some top tips for handling them.

1. How do you deal with poor performance?

You might have an employee who used to be great at their job, someone who is always on time to work, meets all their deadlines and makes the workspace a nicer place to be. But, for some reason, this work attitude changes, and they stop performing as well. This change will have come from somewhere, and it is your job to find out what this is, and help them get back on track. Ignoring it will not help, it will probably make the situation much worse and your business could suffer.

It is important to speak with them directly, and arrange a meeting to discuss the issue. Ask them what is causing their disengagement from their work, and plan together how to resolve these issues. You should make them aware of your expectations and point out the areas where they are falling short so that you can set targets and give them a chance to improve. 

It might be that they are unable to complete tasks because they have not got the right skills. If that is the case, it is worth looking in to sending your staff on training courses. Contact to find out about the fully funded training support that is available to you. 

Make sure you agree a time frame for improvement with your employee. If they do not achieve what they need to by that time and there is no longer a valid reason for their poor performance, you might need to consider disciplinary action.

2. How to deal with misconduct?

It can be uncomfortable having to deal with misconduct in the workplace. Ideally, you will not have to discipline your staff, but if they are doing something they should not, you will have to handle it. Misconduct could be things like lateness, fraudulent expense claims, an aggressive attitude, or not complying with health and safety regulations… the list goes on. 

It is important for you not to have a knee-jerk reaction, and to take the time to consider how you are going to handle the situation. Often, it can be dealt with informally, with a meeting to give them a tap on the knuckles with the promise of further action if they do not change their behaviours. A formal disciplinary should be your last resort. 

If you do need to take formal action against their behaviour, look to your disciplinary procedures set out in your employee handbook. If you have not got any, then the ACAS website has some good procedures that you can follow. Remember, you cannot be judge and jury, so bring in one of your managers or an external adviser to help you deal with the case. Ideally, you will have someone to investigate the misconduct and put together a report with all the key details on. It does not have to be fancy, a simple side of A4 will do the job, as long as it  has got all the relevant evidence included, such as: witness statements, photos, email screenshots, internet history, etc. 

Once you have got the report, you can then invite your employee to a disciplinary hearing. Take a look at the ACAS guide to find out what your legal obligations are for a disciplinary. You do not have to take action against your employee just because there has been an official disciplinary, but if you do it is called a sanction and needs to go in their employee file. You will need to write to your employee to let them know what the sanction is, what the consequences will be if they do not follow it, and how long it will be in operation. 

Your employee always has the right to appeal against their sanction, and if they choose to, you will need to make sure the case is heard by people who were not involved in the initial process. This is usually when you would need to seek expert advice.

3. How do you deal with a grievance?

Grievances in the workplace are often low level discontents that bubble away under the surface and do not often need a written, formal action. This is best for you and your employees, keeping things informal and in-house usually makes for much swifter and more pleasant solutions. 

Grievances often start with people not getting on well together. If this is the case, you could arrange a chat with each person involved in the conflict individually, and hear out each side. You can then look for common ground and use that to help rebuild bridges and make for an easier work environment. Invite everyone involved to another meeting and present the conflicting views and focus on the common points. Encourage them to work together to create a comfortable way of coexisting in the workplace. 

If the situation escalates and you are unable to handle it informally, you will need to make sure you follow your official grievance policy. If you have not got one set up in your business already, there are some good templates you can follow on the ACAS website. 

4. How to manage a personality clash in the workplace?

People will not always get on, but if a personality clash starts to impact on people’s ability to do their work, it becomes a big problem. It is one of the most common HR problems you will have to manage. You might be tempted to sweep it under the rug and ignore it, but that is not the best plan, and the situation can escalate. It is a much better idea to deal with the problem head on and nip it in the bud. Quite often, if it goes unmanaged, one of the employees involved in the clash will decide to leave your business to find a happier work environment for themselves. You do not want to have to go through the lengthy and expensive hiring process when having a few conversations could resolve the issue. 

Dealing with a personality clash, as with a grievance, is easier when you keep it informal. Arrange a meeting with each person individually to find out where the problems started and to find out if there is any common ground between the two, and use our tips for 1-1s to help keep the meeting on track. Then, once you have got a better handle on the situation yourself, you can bring them together and try to alleviate the tension. You do not need them to become best buddies, you just need to find an acceptable working relationship. It can often be helpful to have a HR expert or your best people manager in the meeting with you, to help facilitate a useful conversation.

5. What do you do if you have recruited the wrong person?

You will have invested a lot of time, money and effort in to recruiting someone who you think would be an asset to your business. However, they might not always work as well as you were hoping they would, and you might need to take some action. 

The first thing you will want to do is to have a chat with them to find out what is causing the problems. It might be that the job they are doing is not quite what they expected or that they are struggling with the workload. If you have that conversation, you can find out what the issue is, and work with them to resolve it so that they can do the job properly. 

You should also look at their contract of employment. Whenever you take on a new member of staff, it is your legal obligation to give them their contract within the first 8 weeks of starting, but it is always a good idea to send it to them before employment actually starts. In the contract, there should be a section detailing their probationary period. It is common for an employee to have to complete a three month probationary period before being guaranteed a position in the business. If your new employee is not meeting the requirements set out here, then you can usually terminate their contract with 1 weeks’ notice. 

6. How to manage intermittent sickness?

From time to time, your employees will get ill, there is no escaping it. It is important that you monitor staff sickness, so you can see who has been taking time off and what their reasons were. Sometimes though, you will start to see people taking time off and claiming to be ill when they would rather go to the cinema or to a birthday party. This can cause you lots of problems and make a serious dent in your overall productivity. For more detailed information bout managing sickness in the workplace, check out this article. 

So, how do you deal with people if they are taking too many days off sick, but do not seem to be ill? Having a "return to work discussion" system in place can be great for preventing your employees taking time off if they are not genuinely ill. They can also be great for supporting people returning to work if they have been ill and show your staff that you care about their wellbeing. 

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You could create a list of questions to ask your employee when they return from sick leave. This could include things like:

  • How are you feeling?
  • Did you speak to a GP or pharmacist?
  • Are you on any medication?
  • Are you able to do all parts of your job or do your responsibilities need tweaking a bit while you fully recover?

Having a list of questions to ask helps to standardise the process and not make anyone feel singled out or interrogated. Having return to work discussions with your employees will also help you to support people who have genuinely been suffering and identify who is abusing the privilege. It will be much harder for someone who’s not being entirely truthful to speak to you face-to-face.

7. How do you deal with a long term absence?

It can be tricky to manage a long term absence, especially if one of your key members of staff is unable to work for the foreseeable future. How you respond needs to be informed by the illness, for example, there is a big difference in someone being off for 6 weeks to recover from an operation and someone being diagnosed with cancer. You will need to be sensitive and supportive to your employee and do what you can to make a difficult situation a little easier for them. Get your team to sign a card and, if you can, visit them while they are off so they know they have not been forgotten. 

One of the big things you will need to think about is their pay. If you let your employee know exactly what they will be getting paid and for how long, it can help alleviate some of their stress which can make it easier for them to recover. In your contract, you might have a section which sets out exactly what your employee is entitled to if they need to take extended time off. If you do not have this written into your contracts, you can take your advice from the government’s statutory sick pay calculator. Typically, you will have to pay a weekly rate of £88.45 for up to 28 weeks. You can find out more about sick pay here. 

Sensitivity is key, and you should take it step-by-step with your employee, especially if they have a potentially life threatening illness. Set dates for conversations about their progress and plan with them their return to work. Coming back after a lengthy time off can be daunting so setting up those return to work conversations are really important. 

If you have got more questions about employee sickness, head to the fit for work service. They have got lots of great advice to help you support your staff through their illness and return to work.


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Written by:

Helen Straw

Managing director

Email Address:

Telephone: 07808064099