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Dealing with Tricky People issues – Coronavirus impact FAQs

Managing people can be tricky at the best of times. Throw in a global pandemic, a lockdown, media panic and general work stress and life could be about to get tricky.

We have had a few new questions over the last few weeks at People Puzzles, so we thought we would share some ideas about how to handle them in case you are having similar challenges. Please feel free to send in your Question, and we will do our best to answer and add it here.

  1. Someone in my team refuses to come into the office/onsite even though we are open and need their skills. What can we do?

Well, the answer does depend a little. Take three different scenarios, explained by our People Director, Kerry Howard:

  • If they have underlying health conditions:

Government advice is that everyone should remain at home to work, unless it is essential that they travel to the office/site, for example, if they are a key worker. It is also strongly advised that anyone with an underlying health condition remains at home.  Practically speaking, it is going to be difficult for you to enforce that they come to site, and you should first look at whether you can re-deploy them to a role which they could do at home.

Due to them having an underlying medical condition they should remain at home, something called “shielding”. At present, this runs until June and they should have had a letter from their GP advising them to stay at home for a 12-week period. There is a list of conditions that are covered by shielding and you can find these on this government webpage.

You may want to consider allowing them to remain at home on full pay, if you have others who can perform the role that you need on site. Alternatively, you could consider furloughing them to protect them and the organisation.

  • They live with a vulnerable person:

Living with a vulnerable person is not, in itself, a reason not to attend work.  Government advice is that in these cases, the individual should keep a distance from the vulnerable person at home, potentially dividing up living space and not sharing crockery etc.

You can ask this group of people to attend work and should put in place the same protection as you would to safeguard any employee required to attend work.  It is natural that this is a worrying time and you may have an employee who is concerned about coming to work. In this case, listen to their concerns and see what you can put in place to address them so that the individual feels more comfortable coming to work.

  • There seems to be no reason we can identify

On the face of it, there may not seem to be any reason why your employee can’t come to work, but they are refusing anyway.  First step is to be understanding and listen to their concerns, and try and get to the root of the issue.

Government advice is that everyone should stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary that they attend work.  You should consider whether they can work from home or if you really do need them onsite. If their concern is related to contracting Coronavirus from being at work, you could look at adjustments such as spacing within the office or altering start and finish times to avoid rush hour travel.

If there really is no reason why and you want to, you could agree to unpaid leave or to allowing the employee to use annual leave.  This is not something that you have to agree to and you can ask that they do attend work.

Refusal to attend work in this circumstance, could result in disciplinary action, but we would advise that you tread carefully before deploying this, ensuring that you have all of the facts.

  1. I have a poor performer who is now home working. I don’t think they are doing any work.

We all know these are unprecedented times, and with many employees now working from home there are many great success stories where people have adapted well to the change and their performance has been unaffected.

However, there are also number of challenges that employers and employees are facing by having to create new ways of working explains Suzanne Wilkinson, one of our other People Directors.

So, what do you do if you think that a member of your team is not doing any work when working from home?  And more to the point what if they were a poor performer prior to the change?

Realistically, most people who are now working from home are having to work around a number of challenges; maybe kids that are off school, other family members who are also working from home, and /or tech issues, it is understandable that people may not be as productive as usual.

The temptation could be to micro manage your whole team, to create many checks and balances for everyone to demonstrate that they are ‘working hard’.

However, the more effective approach would be to apply Situational Leadership principles and focus your time and energy  on employees who need more coaching and/or directing; and ensure they understand what they need to deliver and by when… then put the necessary processes in place to keep in touch.  For example, agreeing when and how they will update you on their progress.

If you have an employee who was a ‘poor performer’ prior to lockdown, then you may already have a plan in place to improve their performance.  Depending on what stage you are at in this process you will need to review the most recent action plan and adjust it to reflect the changing circumstances. At the same time follow the approach above to continue to agree clear and achievable objectives and review their ongoing progress.

There is no reason to abandon the performance process altogether, but ensure you are realistic, and reasonable, based on the personal challenges they may be facing trying to deliver remotely.

  1. Someone in my team is extremely anxious about coming into the office but they need to come in to do a good job, and I have taken all the advised measures to protect them.

We are likely to see an increase in concern for health, distancing and safety as our teams come to work. Those who are naturally anxious about these matters will need more reassurance, and may react badly if they don’t think this is being taken seriously.If you remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the two basic needs are physiological and safety needs. Safety includes personal security and health. The requirement to feel safe goes to our deepest nature.

So it isn’t just about making the environment safe and following the government guidelines. It is also about demonstrating to the team that you are taking it seriously, you are listening to their concerns and acting upon them. Drawing on your existing culture and team ethos will hopefully help, as will actively engaging them in making the environment work for everyone.

Regardless of everything you do physically, you will need to take anxiety and the mental health of your workers seriously, probably more seriously than you have ever done before.

All people issues and challenges can be difficult to navigate, and be time consuming and potentially costly. Our team of part-time People Directors are keen to help, so please do get in touch with us if you are looking for answers and support hello@peoplepuzzles.co.uk or call 0808 164 5826.

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