Drawing a line in the Sand – Managing Employee behaviour in the workplace

As the best freelance HR consultant Essex can offer you, delivering expert HR advice for small businesses, I often hear of a common problem in many businesses: Employees ignoring the rules and consequently, this becoming the accepted norm. Situations where before you know it everyone has a complete disregard for an established rule. Managers want to know, how do you deal with this kind of problem?

Every workplace has its own basic work rules.  Simple rules are in place, such as – no phones in the office or all expense forms must be in by the end of the month.  It seems that managers often find it easier to deal with the ‘bigger issues’, probably as these are deemed to be more important and turn a blind eye to the smaller rules as they don’t seem to be significant.

All it takes is one person to get away with disrespect for the rules.  Then the next day somebody else will give it a try and if the manager/supervisor says nothing then it seems accepted.  Before you know it, you have everyone thinking this is OK and the manager is thinking – “they’ve been doing it for so long now, I don’t know how to deal with it”.

Sometimes rules get relaxed when times aren’t busy i.e. looking on social media, or maybe the kitchen was out of action so everyone sat at their desks to eat.  This then becomes a habit and is tolerated.  It can appear to be nit-picking to deal with these issues, but in my experience managers can find the little things like these are frustrating.

Clearly, in these situations, it is always best to nip it in the bud.  For example, if somebody doesn’t follow the rules then the manager should address it with a quiet word in their ear and hopefully, that will be the end of it.  But when you have everyone sitting at their desks eating their lunch again with a sign on the wall saying ‘NO Food in the Office’. Today you say something, when it has been ignored previously, people will probably assume you are ‘having a bad day’!

This is where your management skills and the HR policy that is collecting dust in the corner come in handy!

It’s time to ‘draw a line in the sand’.  Firstly remind everyone of the rules, and show everyone the relevant policy if there is one.  Tell them that from a set date this rule will be enforced.  From the set date forward, anyone disobeying the rule will be dealt with accordingly.  Make the consequences clear, for example, anyone leaving early will have pay deducted, or anyone handing their expenses form in late will not be reimbursed until the following month.  In certain circumstances, the disciplinary policy will be necessary and anyone seen to be disobeying the rules after the set date will be dealt with through the documented process, and where necessary given a formal warning.

Say what you are going to do, then do what you say.

Managers must do what they say you have committed to doing.  Follow through with the consequences, as promised. In most circumstances, you won’t have to do it more than a couple of times, as word will spread.

It may seem like you are managing children at times, but if you have a rule in place and you still want it to be respected then don’t be afraid to deal with it.  The rule would have been put in place for a reason.  If you are the manager it’s OK to tell staff how you expect them to perform/behave at work.  As a manager, you are expected to take control and you will gain respect from staff if you are seen to take charge.

If the rule no longer seems relevant or is unnecessary, you may consider having a consultation with your staff.  Maybe you can find a compromise that suits everyone.  The main point is don’t let small problems fester and become a big irritation. For more on our expert HR advice for small businesses, including both ad hoc HR support and retained HR support, contact Blue Tree HR Solutions.

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