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Survey reveals Britain’s worst colleagues

More than half of line managers aren't trained to deal with workplace conflicts

Workplaces around the UK are apparently filled with nightmare colleagues who make their fellow employees’ lives hell. That’s the finding of national workplace law consultancy Protecting.co.uk, which says that bosses tend to struggle with problem employees because they are worried about being drawn into wrongful dismissal cases.

But as Protecting.co.uk says, managers and workers alike have to deal with colleagues who range from mildly eccentric to fully offensive who have no place in a working environment.

“There’s a fine line between employees who are a little bit ‘funny’ and those who make everybody else’s daily lives a nightmare,” says Protecting.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall. “And because it seems that we’re living in a ‘kid glove’ culture, bosses are terrified of getting disciplinary procedures wrong and paying the price. Employment tribunals could cost a company tens of thousands of pounds, and vacuum up management and employee time that could be spent productively.”

Protecting.co.uk reached out to bosses and employees all over the country and asked them to talk about nightmare employees they’ve encountered. These are just some of the stories the company is allowed to publish.

  • Sanjay, London: “One guy breaks the toilet at least once a week. We’ve no idea how he did it, but he’d come walking out of the loo clutching a smashed toilet seat. He’s costing us a fortune, and it’s not funny any more.”
  • Nicola, Nottingham: “We work in a biggish office, and we like to think we’re a happy team. But everything came tumbling down because of one person who wouldn’t stop stealing from the fridge. HR literally took months to deal with it, and by then we were virtually at war. Terrible days; we lost some great people who quit in disgust.”
  • Graham, Edinburgh: “The interview should have been a clue, because he asked us how many breaks he was allowed every day. We didn’t realise he was expecting three hours on the toilet ringing his bookie every day. He’s phoning in his bets in his own time now.”
  • Alison, Cardiff: “Every now and again we still catch a whiff of her, even though she got the boot months ago. We didn’t call her BO Billie for nothing, you know. You could smell her coming from the other end of the warehouse.”
  • Ashraf, Liverpool: “We don’t mind our employees having another job. What I did object to was him dropping tools and running off to do his taxi job on my company time. The final straw was when he crashed his BMW into one of our delivery vans in the car park. Gross misconduct, but we should have sacked him months before.”
  • Richard, Norwich: “Let me tell you about Fighty Dave. He liked fighting, and most of the time with his own workmates. He only lasted two weeks with us, and that was about two weeks too long. It was like Fight Club round here – nobody’s ever forgotten Fighty Dave.”

These examples are pretty much typical of problems faced by employers and colleagues across the country, says Protecting.co.uk

“The challenge,” Hall continues, “is how companies deal with these incidents. It’s not always about the nuclear option of sacking somebody – it can also be about addressing problem staff and attempting to change their behaviour and preserve workplace harmony.”

But the major problem is getting the balance right – there’s a tightrope to be trodden between being the strict boss playing by the rules, and letting workplace disruptors off too lightly. And that’s where getting good workplace law advice is vital, Hall says. “A firm word with the workplace toilet wrecker may be enough for him to stop whatever it is he does to toilets. But dealing with a workplace thief quickly and efficiently is a different kettle of fish altogether. Nightmare workmates can destroy both a company’s morale and profit margins. Bosses have a duty to prevent that from happening.”