Working with people who challenge us – James Cook Uni offers advice on how to cope
While both paid and voluntary work can provide a livelihood, sense of identity, and often fulfilment, at times working with people who are challenging – for whatever reason – can make individuals feel unhappy, uncomfortable, or bullied.
James Cook University (JCU) Associate Professor of Law Louise Floyd has shared some of the ways that the law can help empower employees, managers, and business owners who come face-to-face with someone who displays extremely challenging behaviours.
“Every single person you will ever meet will either have a job, employ somebody, or conduct some form of work,” Ms Floyd points out. Unfortunately, not all work experiences will be good.
“No matter where you work, no matter what industry or sector, no matter what country, whether you work in senior management, or you’re just starting out, there’s every chance in life that you’re going to come across a very difficult person in your workplace, who doesn’t enjoy seeing you succeed and they might even put a few obstacles in your way.”
Dealing with challenging behaviours in the workplace might appear to be a doom and gloom topic, but for Ms Floyd sharing the legal options with those affected can be empowering.
“Talking about if there is legal redress and what the law can do is actually very inspiring and uplifting because the aim is to help people negotiate those difficult circumstances,” she says.
In her experience, managing a difficult colleague or workplace can be especially complex for those in insecure employment “You always get the question from people who are casual, ‘if I speak up, what if I’m not renewed?”
Restructures are also a source of concern for workers dealing with workplace personality challenges, and Ms Floyd’s advice is that employees should ensure that genuine redundancy is for jobs that are no longer required, and not used to get rid of people they don’t like even if those people are really productive members of staff.
Employers aren’t the only ones affected by working with individuals who challenge them, there are large risks to businesses when the problem isn’t dealt with, Ms Floyd said.
“There’s a duty on senior management, and in fact all management, to have a safe workplace. If somebody is putting obstacles in a person’s way, that’s actually a potential contravention of the duty to have a safe workplace.”
One of the biggest risks for businesses, she added, is the loss of talented employees. “The really big issue is loss of talent, so if you know that you’ve got somebody who is obstructing the progress of really talented people, or applying double standards what happens if you lose that talented member of staff?”
Addressing the challenges posed by a clash of personalities, or inappropriate behaviour, is a matter of taking “a stepped approach,” Ms Floyd said.
“I think the big thing is to keep evidence of what’s going on,” she says. “You don’t want to be overly adversarial at first. You want to try to navigate as best you can the workplace that you’ve got, and the relationships that you ‘ve got, with the evidence you have if the situation’s ongoing and there’s no respite. If that still doesn’t work, then you’ve got think whether you need to bring in an external party and in what form.”
For more information on working with challenging personalities, please see here.