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Battling Staff and Low Morale


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I just need a bit of advice regarding a situation at work. I manage a handful of staff. Before I was offered my promotion the senior management warned me there was issues at work regarding warring members of staff. In particular one was classed as a trouble maker, whilst the other a bit sensitive and another a trouble maker who stood up to the first trouble maker but went a bit too far in bad-mouthing the company in the process. The latter has since left.


I have had to speak to the first trouble maker (T) on several occasions, although I have done this constructively and professionally. She huffs and puffs but I presume it has all blown over as she acts calm for a day or two after. Several other members of staff make regular complaints against her and I report almost everything to my own manager for everyone's protection. He has stated to now gather evidence so this will back up any potential official complaints.


However, during the most recent working day the sensitive (S) worker acts all out of character because I have very politely told her to follow Heath and Safety policies for the protection of all involved. She literally lost her cool and said she would not stay behind to ensure walkways are clear of rubbish and she will leave on time. I informed her that it simply isn't necessary to stay behind but to rather stop work a little earlier to go around the building to ensure Health and Safety procedures are followed. She has since been in the most fowl mood since. I have treated her with kid gloves (did I say that right?) and attempted to appease her and informed her in no way was my advice meant to cause her upset and distress but there for the protection of everyone should we need to evacuate the building swiftly.


To back up my concerns I printed off the work policies on Health and Safety laws and explained I was only reiterating what the company and law state. She kind of accepted what I was saying but then went on to say she and the others were going to speak to my manager about the policies I was putting in place. I explained they are very free to do that and complain about my compliance with the law but they would indeed be stating to my manager they don't agree with the policies I rightfully follow and are not prepared to follow them themselves and could potentially get themselves into trouble for doing so.


I spoke to three other members of staff - one who is very close to S - and asked about their apparent unhappiness with the policies. Two said they totally agreed with me completely and the one close to S explained that it was actually T who gathered everyone together last week in my absence and encouraged everyone to make a complaint about a relative of mine who is doing temporary work there. She knew of nothing else but said she thought about the complaint against my relative but had told T the next day she did not want any part of b****ing. She looked confused over the part where T and S wanted to speak to my own manager about the Health and Safely policies they are refusing to follow.


S has been stating all day that it is an unhappy place to work and I have encouraged her to tell me how as we are usually close and share a good laugh. She couldn't come up with a reason and admits I have been kind and given members of staff extra responsibilities that were previously denied. So I explained the only thing she is unhappy with is the fact I have implemented Health and Safety and good housekeeping and organisation. Not at any time have I been nasty to any member of staff and I encourage them to talk, laugh, have drinks when they like, etc. I only want the place tidy at the end of the day and rules adhered to.


Towards the end of the shift I ask S if anything else has been said as she still appears withdrawn. She says yes but is not prepared to discuss anything with me until she goes home and thinks about it. She admits I have said or done something (won't say which) but won't tell me what I am supposed to have done. I am confused. I have never been nasty or spoken bad about any member of staff to another (senior staff warned me never to as the previous twisted incidents before my arrival). I could have quite easily today as when S was complaining her sworn enemy, T, decided to back her up and act very cheeky towards me.


All I can think of is T has been filling her head with hate (she wants my job but senior management refused her application because of her previous trouble making and constant ing) even though they both do not get on. Another member of staff has informed me they have done nothing but talk about me behind my back all day. In fact, S encouraged me to make several complaints to my own manager about T. Now T said today that S had nominated her to make a complaint to my manager about me about the Health and Safely issues.


Does anyone have any advice? I cannot think of what I have said or done to upset anyone and wonder if a member of staff may be trying to purposely spin a web for me. I have already text my manager asking to speak with him before the start of Monday's shift.



Just to add: S did admit before she left her attitude towards me was very bad, although she still refused to explain what I had supposed to have said or done in addition to the Health and Safety issues, only she is stuck in the middle (of what I have no idea). I told her not to worry and I will not hold it against her as my telling her about the policies was not a reflection on her dedicated hard work. She also said she wants to leave and never return. I told her she is a very valued member of staff and I would be sad to see her go. This hasn't removed her sulking with me and she stormed off home.


Also, friend close to S said no previous manager had implemented the rules as they always got chased out by T so they were not used to the rules being in place.



Thank you.

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I wouldn't corner one employee into speaking about others. You're not there for popularity, and it will make you come off as insecure and manipulatable because you'll set a model of gossip and manipulation yourself.


One word managers and HR need to avoid is 'attitude' because it's subjective and intangible and attempts to establish state of mind of another as tangible. So stick to behaviors. Establish with management that you intend to enforce safety policies in order to receive their backup should you need to write up anyone who refuses to follow practices. Then schedule each employee with responsibilities for checks and maintenance throughout the day, where each reports the results by signing off on the check. Allow for however many warnings your company allows before an official write up, issue those warnings in writing and then begin actual write ups of whoever doesn't comply on a given day.


Your write ups are the ammunition your company needs to terminate those who interfere with policies, but recognize that badmouthing your or the policies are not the same as refusing to comply with them. Compliance tends to straighten out pretty quickly when write ups terminate the first person--usually the one you want to get rid of anyway.


Morale isn't something you can force into change, it usually involves culling out the most toxic people while maintaining any policies you implement. Over time those who comply willingly outlast the toxic ones and those are the people who will build your foundation for healthier morale going forward.


So I'd skip war words like 'battle' to frame your situation and consider positive words like 'cultivate' instead.


Head high.

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