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7 common HR problems and top tips

7 common HR problems and top tips
Helen Straw
Staff development, Mentor, Business development

In this article you’ll 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’s something you’ll have to know how to do to make sure your employees are always productive and safe in your workplace. To help make it a bit easier for you, we’ve 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’s 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’s your job to find out what this is, and help them get back on track. Ignoring it won’t help, it’ll probably make the situation much worse and your business could suffer. 

It’s important to speak with them directly, arrange a meeting to discuss the issue. Ask them what’s 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’re falling short so that you can set targets and give them a chance to improve. 

It might be that they’re unable to complete tasks because they haven’t got the right skills. If that’s the case, it’s worth looking into sending your staff on training courses. Contact support@howsbusiness.org to find out about the fully funded training support that’s available to you. 

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

Man and woman in an office looking at paperwork

2. How to deal with misconduct?

It can be uncomfortable having to deal with misconduct in the workplace. Ideally, you won’t have to discipline your staff but if they’re doing something they shouldn’t, you’ll 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’s important for you not to have a knee-jerk reaction and to take the time to consider how you’re going to handle the situation. Often, it can be dealt with informally, with a meeting to give them a rap on the knuckles with the promise of further action if they don’t 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 haven’t got any, then the ACAS website has some good procedures that you can follow. Remember, you can’t be judge and jury, so bring in one of your managers or an external adviser to help you deal with the case. Ideally, you’ll have someone to investigate the misconduct and put together a report with all the key details on. It doesn’t have to be fancy, a simple side of A4 will do the job, as long as it’s got all the relevant evidence included, such as: witness statements, photos, email screenshots, internet history etc. 

Once you’ve 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 don’t have to take action against your employee just because there’s been an official disciplinary, but if you do it’s called a sanction and needs to go in their employee file. You’ll need to write to your employee to let them know what the sanction is, what the consequences will be if they don’t 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’ll need to make sure the case is heard by people who weren’t involved in the initial process. This is usually when you’d need to seek expert advice.

Two women having an indepth discussion at work

3. How do you deal with a grievance?

Grievances in the workplace are often low level discontents that bubble away under the surface and don’t often need a written, formal action. This is best for you and your employees, keeping things informal and in-house usually make 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’re unable to handle it informally, you’ll need to make sure you follow your official grievance policy. If you haven’t got one set up in your business already, there are some good templates you can follow on the ACAS website that you can access here. 

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

People won’t always get on, but if a personality clash starts to impact people’s ability to do their work, it becomes a big problem and is one of the most common HR problems you’ll have to manage. You might be tempted to sweep it under the rug and ignore it, but that’s not the best plan and the situation can escalate. It’s 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 don’t 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 to keep it informal. Arrange a meeting with each person individually to find out where the problems started and to find out if there’s any common ground between the two. Then, once you’ve got a better handle on the situation yourself, you can bring them together and try to alleviate the tension. You don’t 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’ve recruited the wrong person?

You’ll have invested a lot of time, money and effort into recruiting someone who you think would be an asset to your business. But, 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’ll want to do is to have a chat with them to find out what’s causing the problems. It might be that the job they’re doing isn’t quite what they expected or that they’re 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’s your legal obligation to give them their contract within the first 8 weeks of starting, but it’s 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’s 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 isn’t 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’s no escaping it. It’s important that you monitor staff sickness, so you can see who’s been taking time off and what their reasons were. Sometimes though, you’ll start to see people taking time off and claiming to be ill when they’d 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. 

So, how do you deal with people if they’re taking too many days off sick but don’t 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’re 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. 

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.

Young woman sitting at her desk rubbing her back and neck pain

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’s a big difference in someone being off for 6 weeks to recover from an operation and someone being diagnosed with cancer. You’ll 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’re off so they know they’ve not been forgotten. 

One of the big things you’ll need to think about is their pay. If you let your employee know exactly what they’ll 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 don’t have this written into your contracts, you can take your advice from the government’s statutory sick pay calculator. Typically, you’ll 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’ve got more questions about employee sickness, head to the fit for work service. They’ve got lots of great advice to help you support your staff through their illness and return to work.

Summary

This article should have given you some ideas for handling common HR problems in your workplace.