Problem Employees You Should Avoid Hiring

Jasmine Brennan-Rincon

Jasmine Brennan-Rincon

Human Resources Professional

Your organization is only as successful as its workforce, hence the alternative term ‘human capital'. For this reason, Human Resources professionals are tasked with leveraging workforce talent to the greatest extent possible. Maintaining an innovative and productive employee population requires a cohesive strategy with recruitment at its core. Recruitment processes are designed to ensure alignment between organizational needs and the incumbent's abilities. Most importantly, recruiters are the gatekeepers that prevent problem employees from entering the organization.

A problem employee adversely impacts an organization and causes negative financial impacts. The bottom line is that problem employees are expensive. There are three “challenge categories” that problem employees fall into, all of which can be identified during the interview process.

  1. Business Acumen Challenges - These individuals lack the professionalism and soft skills required to be successful within your organization.
  2. Technical Challenges - Due to insufficient experience, education and/or training these individuals are unable to perform in accordance with organizational standards.
  3. Culture Fit Challenges - These employees are chronically unable to conform with the organization's cultural norms and interpersonal components of their roles, leading to negative impacts on relationships with internal and external clients.

There are a multitude of impacts that problem employees make on your organization, all of which require time, money and effort to address.

Brand Image

The goal of any strategic organization is to empower its' employees to embody and uphold a brand image. For this reason, a great deal of time and money is invested in building an impactful, unique brand image that will resonate with end users. However, a tarnished brand image is both difficult and expensive to repair. Whether the problem employee is externally-facing or not, his or her sphere of influence within your organization can damage the brand.

Retaliation is also a factor; today disgruntled employees have a platform, known as social media, to voice their opinions. No matter how “ironclad” your social media policy is, it is highly unlikely that a problem employee will shy away from the opportunity to bad mouth your organization. The employer brand that your company has worked to build may become discredited, making the war for talent even more treacherous.

Loss of Productivity

Another consideration is the amount of time spent addressing problem employees. Individuals lacking sufficient business acumen, organizational culture competence and subject matter expertise require additional levels of training and coaching. From training materials to loss of productivity of the individual providing the ongoing coaching, the organization's bottom line is effected. The residual effects of problem employees cascade down to their colleagues, who often times are tasked with picking up the slack.

HR & Legal Involvement

When a problem employee's issues escalate to the extent that they cause undue hardship to the organization, employee relations and legal expenses may be incurred. Disciplining and terminating employees can be costly from time and financial perspectives, especially if a union is involved. Time and money expended on remediation, severing the employment relationship and even replacing a problem employee takes away from your organization's forward progression.

How can you avoid them altogether?

The best way to avoid problem employees is to build a recruitment process that addresses the unique needs of both your organization and the specific role. Rule out culture fit challenges by asking specific, behavior based questions such as ‘Describe an organizational culture in which you have thrived professionally' and ‘Tell me about a time when your personal style, beliefs or opinions did not align with the organizational culture of a former employer'. Provide specific examples regarding dress code, hours of operation and other organizational norms that are ‘make or break' factors within your organization. As you have this conversation, analyze the candidate's body language for signs of discomfort or disagreement such as shifting body weight and loss of eye contact.

For mid and senior level candidates it may seem trivial to spend time discussing business acumen, but it is necessary. Addressing professionalism and organizational expectations as basic as written communication standards demonstrates to the candidate that soft skills are important to your company. During this time, be sure to elicit information regarding interpersonal skills such as emotional intelligence. As a rule of thumb, entry level talent should meet at least the minimum required level of business acumen to be considered for the role. If you are uncertain, try to quantify the projected training expenditure in dollars and hours to get the candidate to the ideal level of performance. Anything above the average investment demonstrates that the candidate is not qualified.

Next, spend time understanding a candidate's depth of technical proficiency. This requires the recruitment professional and the hiring manager to partner closely throughout the interview process. As a recruiter and Human Resources professional, areas such as a candidate's ability to fit in with the organizational culture are easier to evaluate than technical proficiencies. This is where the hiring manager's awareness of the responsibilities of the role comes into play. Often times, hiring managers are uncomfortable asking questions that probe for substantive answers if candidates do not readily provide them. It is the responsibility of the recruiter to coach the manager through these scenarios. Start by maintaining open lines of communication and ask about his or her level of comfort with interviewing in general. If necessary, offer to ask the tough questions.

Consider including realistic job previews as a component of the interview process. Provide final candidates with the opportunity to execute some of the tasks that will be required of the prospective job incumbent. Depending upon the nature of the role, this can take place in the work environment and require producing a deliverable. A presentation or project completed and submitted to the hiring manager for review may be more suitable for some positions. Either way, assessing a work sample provides key insight into technical proficiency.

Utilize the recruitment process as a two-way street of communication. Offer insight into the expectations and organizational culture, and also elicit as much information about the candidate as possible. The residual effects of problem employees vary; however, the one commonality is the financial impact- the bottom line is that addressing problem employees is costly.

About The Author

Jasmine Brennan-Rincon

Jasmine Brennan-Rincon

Jasmine Brennan- Rincon is a Human Resources Professional with a diverse realm of expertise. Throughout her career, she has led people and projects in support of strategic organizational initiatives. Her areas of focus include talent acquisition, employee relations, employment branding, diversity & inclusion, employee engagement and performance management. Jasmine helps clients navigate career paths, build retention strategies and overcome performance management challenges. She offers a wide range of programs and services including resume writing, career development, personal branding, coaching and employee engagement initiatives.


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