How to manage difficult members of staff

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Some members of staff have the ability to bring a whole team down. ‘Mood Hoovers’ is a common term. This is a problem in any workplace but in childcare settings, you have to be particularly careful not to let children be affected or influenced by them. Here some ideas on how to carefully approach and manage such a situation, to make for a happier environment for all.

Bear in mind that everyone is different

One of the hardest things about managing people is that they’re all different. One person’s inspiration can be another’s demotivation. Running a setting, you’ll have people of all ages and backgrounds and temperaments around you and learning different ways to tackle them will really help you.

A range of characters is needed in every work place. It can be frustrating if one constantly challenges every plan you share, but on the flip side they’re the one keeping the risks low and keeping you from getting complacent. Equally, an over-enthusiastic member of staff may be too much when you’re feeling under the weather, but when you’re not on top form, they’ll be the one keep a smile on everyone’s faces.

Your job as manager is to learn what everyone brings to the team and how to handle them. Sometimes, a person who appears difficult just sees the world through different eyes to you, so have that clear before you approach them.

Are they worth the effort?

In some instances, the best thing to do is just take a step back and not get upset. If you dwell on negativity or rise to it, you can end up more stressed than you need to be. Walk away, take a deep breath and let your calm, rational self think about a course of action.

Sometimes it’s worth speaking to another trusted member of the team to find out their views on the person. If you do this, make sure it doesn’t turn into a moaning session or that you start forming teams because this can lead to bullying. Keep the conversation factual about their impact on your setting.

Change the subject

When someone is agitated or even slightly aggressive, subtly changing the subject can help to diffuse their anger. You have to be careful with this and not give the impression you’re not taking them seriously, but with someone just generally moaning or ranting, it can be a handy technique.

Be the peacekeeper

When other members of your team are in conflict, as a manager, it’s your job to calm situations and act as mediator. Be careful not to take sides too quickly. Listen to both sides of the story and help them to reach a compromise.

Be clear about your expectations

These situations don’t always revolve around upsetting others. It’s common to have lovely people that make lots of mistakes and let the team down. Make a habit of regular meetings with every individual, so you can set objectives and assess performance against them. Objectives should always be very black and white, so if they’re not met, you have a factual basis for a frank conversation.

One step at a time

Someone may be really winding you up, but don’t jump in with both feet. When you are calm, take them aside and talk to them about how their actions are upsetting you. Give them chance to explain if there’s an issue at home bothering them or even something at work that’s making them unhappy. Supporting them through problems will bring you closer and they’ll feel more part of the team. Depending on the conversation, be clear how you expect their behaviour to change.

If there’s no improvement, you’ll want to have a more formal meeting. This should be done in consultation with your HR representative (if you don’t have one in-house, you should seek advice externally). You can work out next steps and whether the person seems willing to change. Unfortunately, the only option in some instances is to let the person go. It’s not a nice thought, but better to lose the negative staff member than the good people they upset!


Want to find out how to get the best out of your team? Why not try a Level 3 Diploma in Management?

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