HR should never rush to punish disrespectful and rude workers

The common mistake that supervisors make is be quick to punish an employee deemed to be on the wrong in a conflict. [iStockphoto]

John was always perfect in his work. But he was rude and lacked respect. He had on several occasions been accused of professional misconduct.

When the organisation he worked for could no longer tolerate him, he was dismissed. He sought court redress and to the utter disbelieve of the firm, was reinstated with hefty compensation for wrongful dismissal. 

Why should the courts side with a person of such unprofessional misconduct? The answer lies in understanding the difference between breaches in regulations and conflicts. Breach in regulations is objective in the sense that it is clear on the labour or HR clause that was broken, such as a clause against absenteeism for an employee who is always absent. Conflicts, on the other hand, are subjective and highly opinionated with no clear clause. To address this challenge, most organisations have the 'Unprofessional misconduct' clause to lump up everything not handled in a specific clause.  

However, when the unprofessional misconduct clause is peeled off, it often leads to conflict as the cause. Conflicts are as common as common cold in the workplace. Handled well, conflicts lead to stronger relationships and better outcomes. Viewing conflicts positively helps in understanding the underlying issue.

Conflicts emanate from the day-to-day interactions in the workplace. The workplace is made up of people of diverse beliefs and cultures with the potential of inciting conflicts, sometimes unintentionally. The interpersonal interactions arising from the differences in personal beliefs, priorities and values are at play in most cases. As the work environment becomes more complex with an increasing cultural diversity, the likelihood of such differences leading to conflicts also increases. The common mistake that supervisors make is be quick to punish an employee deemed to be on the wrong in a conflict. Punishing an employee of being rude, lacking respect, or professional misconduct, sometimes to the point of dismissal, requires a careful thought-process.

Does it mean employees who are perpetually rude, unprofessional, lack respect, bully, or whatever goes into this category, should be let off the hook? An emphatic no! There exist interventions that HR should spearhead in resolving conflicts.

A child who grew up arguing with a parent will always argue with his boss. A person from a cultural background where everyone is engaged in decision making will find it difficult when an unpopular decision is made by the supervisor. Equally, science supports that a child brought up in an abusive family, will likely be rude and lack respect. These people are in the workplaces.

One intervention is to have an open policy through a one-on-one with such an employee, and just talk, laugh and engage. It seems silly and a waste of time, but you end up understanding their reasoning and the factors contributing to the unprofessional behaviour.

Supervisors who create rapport with their subordinates tend to suppress even the “hard to handle” employees. Through the concept of motivation interviewing (MI), the employee is allowed to express himself freely, and buy-in the problem as his own. In MI, the key is in him/her finding the solution to his/her problem.

-Ms Shivachi is a Certified Human Resource Professional