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Identifying the Troubled Employee

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Submitted By Pratibhamahimkar
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1. What, according to you, are some of the signs of a troubled employee that you have noticed?

Changes in employee behavior can signify that an individual may have a personal problem that is interfering with their work performance. There are “red flags” in an employee’s behavior that can be used as indicators. There is usually no single event, but rather a noticeable pattern of change in the employee’s behavior, attitude or work activity. Individually, these signs may seem harmless enough but taken together they may represent a serious problem. It is important to avoid ignoring the initial indicators.

These are some of the signs that might help you identify an employee who has a problem.

Work Related

Unable to concentrate on work and complete the given task/activities on time. Errors in the task completed
Making excuses for substandard work
Procrastination, inability to concentrate


Major changes in personal appearance, attitude or behavior
Problems with family, friends, co-workers, legal issues, financial issues
Heightened anxiety, overly defensive

2. Have you come across any such individual/s at your organisations?


3. How have you handled the situation?

A ONCE-to-be valuable and productive employee unexpectedly starts turning in less than an acceptable worker. More often than not, the root cause of such dramatic behavioural change is troubles - either personal or professional. Most employees develop some problems at some point of their careers, which negatively influence their work, standards, morale and attitude. The genesis may be job-related, like frustration from lack of approval despite a job well done, deficiency of work-skills, job stress; or personal - like financial woes, marital discord, family disruption or even substance abuse.

Whatever be the reason, the manager is expected to step in and help resolve the predicament along with the HR. HR closely works with the manager to help him plan the future action for the employee. After all, it is their responsibility to maintain acceptable work levels.

Rising to the challenge

Dealing with a troubled employee is a delicate matter. You have to help him out of the tribulations without stepping on his toes. Here is a step-by-step approach we adopt to help sort out the issue.

Early detection of problem - The manager is in the best position to spot employee problems. He is trained to be cognizant of dramatic performance changes, if any, watch for patterns of work slowdown, preoccupation, constant fatigue, inability to cope, mood swings or frequent absenteeism. Timely and appropriate response to the early warning signs can help prevent long-term deceleration in performance.

Address the issue – Manager is expected to speak to the concerned employee in a supportive and objective manner. Describe the changed behaviour and show how his work has been affected. Make it clear that the intervention is because his productivity is dropping. Express concern but underline that he is responsible for his efficiency.

Give him a chance to air his feelings and woes. Be a sounding board for his troubles. A willingness to listen makes him feel valued and understood. Often, half the problem is solved if one gets a sympathetic ear!

Lend a helping hand – With the help of HR, the Manager is supposed to explore, understand and help resolve the problem. Assist him in examining alternatives and choosing the best solution. Set up concrete goals and seek a commitment to improve performance.

Assigning new or challenging work can also help sidetrack the problem. Manager needs to be considerate to extend a deadline or adjust work hours to accommodate the crisis. If all else fails, professional help may be the only solution. Gently guide him to a therapist.

1. Keep the ball rolling - Continue to monitor his progress. If there is a change for the better, commend and encourage him. However, if he fails to adjust within a reasonable time frame, warn him about discipline procedures. Be prepared to follow through too. Project change or rotation can also be looked at incase where it helps.

4. If such situations persist with a single employee, then what do you do?

When deteriorating performance has been documented, post all the interventions the manager with the help of HR guides the employee of various steps that can be taken to help the employee

These include:

• Discuss the matter with management or HR Head to clarify applicable company policies.

• Gather and summarize all related documentation (e.g., incident reports, past job performance reviews) to look for patterns or previous occurrences.

• Identify objectives and timelines—what does the employee need to do, and by when, to rectify the situation.

• Identify consequences if the performance problem continues.

• Try to anticipate the employee’s reaction so that you can be prepared.

The primary objective is not to determine the employee’s underlying problem. The objective is to advise the employee of the specifics of his or her poor performance and to get agreement on the process to obtain improved future performance.

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