How to deal with the challenges of a new employee

  1. Hannah Fullegar

    Hannah Fullegar UKBF Contributor Full Member

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    Welcoming a new employee into your business is an exciting — and daunting — time.

    The benefits tend to outweigh any negatives: you can share the workload and you have more resource available to take on new projects.

    But working with a new member of staff can also bring challenges you didn’t expect. Even the best-prepared business owner will hit a bump in the road sooner or later.

    We looked at some of the challenges other small business owners have faced when adding a new person to their workforce.

    My new employee isn’t experienced enough for the role

    No new hire is perfect. You might need to hire someone quickly, or it might be a case of picking the best of a bad bunch.

    One common problem that crops up on the forums is a lack of experience – your new employee can't handle the responsibilities they need to. After a great interview or recommendation, they simply haven't got the experience to deliver.

    Plansman found himself faced with this problem when he hired an acquaintance as an assistant. He’d been given a reference by her former colleague and had reviewed her CV, which he admits had been “light on experience.”

    Of course, the action you take to improve the situation depends on how specialised the role is. With the right development and guidance, they could become a real asset to the business. But you have to ask yourself whether you have the time, capacity and finances to train your new recruit in the skills needed.

    There are plenty of courses online that offer training in day-to-day business skills. As Virtual Sales Coach says, the key to successful online training is content — easily understood, engaging content.  

    If you want an employee to complete an online course, the general consensus is that time should be given during work hours. Or, if it’s completed outside of work (and it’s mandatory for the role) this time should also be paid.

    Jeff FV, on the other hand, believes the best way to learn is in a social space, rather than online. That way, participants can discuss topics, ask questions, and help each other. Teachers will also be able to pick up on nonverbal communication and, if needed, adjust their explanations.

    To decide on what’s right for your employee, talk with them and find out how best they learn. Sometimes, there’s nothing better than shadowing a colleague and getting hands-on experience.

    My employee is taking sick leave in their first few weeks

    Another potential sticking point is sick leave or sick pay for a new hire.

    LisaAC recently found herself in an unexpected position: a new starter got sick just before their start date. She asked UKBF whether she should change their start date or state them as employed but on leave.

    Legally, Newchodge says, Lisa’s new starter was employed from day one and on unpaid sick leave — unpaid because they haven’t done any work yet, so they aren’t entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.

    “I would leave it at that - if there are any implications (I can't think of any offhand) it’s best to stick with the legal position.”

    When it comes to sick pay and sick leave, do your research and, if needed, seek professional advice. One member recently ended up regretting a contract clause from a contract they’d found online. Their new starter took several sick days in their first month, but her contract allowed for five days paid sickness per year.

    If an employee earns more than £116 a week, they’re entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks after they’ve used up their company sick pay. Some companies, however, don’t offer sick pay until after a certain amount of time.

    “Company sick pay tops up SSP to normal pay,” Newchodge says. “In your case, for five days. It doesn’t take the place of SSP until the company pay is exhausted, as is implied in your contract.”

    Eccommerce84 gives some advice on how to keep a handle on sickness and not be taken for a ride, regardless of how generous your sick leave policy is:

    “Insist that requests for illness are phoned in — not texted, emailed, WhatsApped etc. A phone call is more personable and people find it harder to lie when speaking to someone. Texts offer a level of detachment and make it easier for people to pull a sickie when they shouldn’t.”

    Ever the realist, Fiscix goes one step further and strongly advises that a potential new employee’s previous sick record is taken into account before offering the job. If regular sickness has happened before, “it’s going to happen again.”

    Unusual circumstances are inevitable — don’t overthink it

    Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many processes you put in place. There will always be situations that surprise you. UKBF’s advice? Don’t overthink it and do what you’re comfortable with.

    Recently, pbsdirect hired a new temp for the Christmas season. When she handed back her starter forms, she also handed over bail documents.

    “The crime she’s on bail for is robbery and assault,” pbsdirect said. “Obviously it’s innocent until proven guilty, but it’s pretty shocking! Did she give me her bail documents by accident? What the heck would you do?”

    While they got off to a good start, pbsdirect has received complaints about her attitude from other members of staff.

    Mr D’s advice is simple. “Deal with her the same as any other temp member of staff. Tell her it's not working and escort her from the premises. And pay her in lieu of notice — yes, it will cost you, but not as much as the damage a resentful staff member who’s leaving in a few days can do.”

    Familiarise yourself with disciplinary procedures

    Whether it’s your first hire or hundredth hire, it’s best to have disciplinary procedures in place in case the worst comes to the worst. These can also be explained during an induction.

    A formal probation period can be helpful to both sides: that way, new employees are aware of how their progress is going. The length of probation can depend on the complexity of the role and will give the employer and employee time to adapt to and learn from each other.

    Standard probational structures include a weekly chat to discuss progress or issues, and a final formal meeting to confirm probation has been passed. If there’s been an issue, an extra month could be added.

    If you find yourself in a position where you need to terminate the employment, remember that an employee can only bring an unfair dismissal claim against you once they’ve been employed for more than two years — unless the reason is classed as automatically unfair. These “automatically unfair” reasons include pregnancy (and all reasons related to maternity), parental leave, whistleblowing, and joining (or not joining) a trade union.

    When terminating an employment, Mr D believes it’s better to be generous rather than risking bad blood, even if they’ve only been employed for a short amount of time.

    Explain why you’re terminating the contract and pay their notice period for the time worked, plus holiday pay. Then you can ask them to leave, rather than give a fired employee reason and opportunity to disrupt the workplace.

    Learn from your mistakes

    In true UKBF style, any question regarding a challenge with a new hire is often greeted with a variation of “learn from your mistakes”.

    Regardless of how rigorous your hiring and induction processes are, remember not to panic. As Gecko001 says, you will always get people who don’t quite meet your expectations. But it’s not the end of the world — any hire involves risk and doesn’t mean they won’t be beneficial after some training.

    But if a new employee’s probation ends and everything has gone to pot, follow Bob Morgan’s advice: “deal with it as recommended, move on and don't let it happen again!”

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