The world of work has changed. The gig economy, the flexible worker, the agile desk and the remote employee – all these possibilities have been enabled by technology and impact on how teams engage and interact.

However, South Africa remains somewhat in the tentative age of the flexible employee with most people still going into a physical office. This means that when an employee causes friction or is incompatible with culture or people, it can impact on team engagement and productivity.

“This is a really important conversation, as the changes in the way we work are also changing the company dynamic,” says Teryl Schroenn, Chief Executive Officer, Accsys. “People are looking more at deliverables as the key measurable rather than how often a person is in an office or how easy they are to manage. That said, there is still a need to identify a challenging employee and to address their impact before they become destructive.”

A challenging employee is not necessarily a bad one. The grain of sand in the oyster may be irritating, but the pearl at the end is worth it. The same can be said for an employee who doesn’t always accept the status quo, who wants justification for the rules and isn’t prepared to simply do what they’re told.

This type of person can encourage internal growth and inspire change – qualities that are essential for a successful business. However, they are only one side of the complex employee coin.

High maintenance, high output
“The other side is the person who is very productive, hitting all the goals and targets, but who also happens to be high maintenance,” says Schroenn. “How often has there been a situation where somebody resigns and everyone says: ‘I thought they would never leave!’? They may have been productive, but they had a negative impact on other people.”

The solution is to temper the situation and assess whether the person is worth the investment. If they are exceptional at their job, then having a conversation that addresses the issues raised by team mates and possible solutions to them is a logical first step. Make the person aware of the issue, look at different ways of handling the problem, and give them an opportunity to engage differently.

“Often people within this category are confident of their contribution and don’t recognise the negative impact they’re having,” says Schroenn.

Compatible sensitivity
Not all people are created equal and with so many personalities thrown into one place, conflict is a given. It is important to establish what is causing the issue - from the employee’s behaviour to personality incompatibility to the workplace dynamic – and to find positive ways of resolving it.

“Most companies don’t want to get rid of employees, not unless they are high maintenance and low output, then the way out is the only way out,” concludes Schroenn. “The goal is to find a solution that supports all employees and personalities while allowing them to work productively and engage comfortably.”