Small businesses typically rely on teams working closely together. If there is a personality clash or a difference of opinion about work, it can affect everybody’s mood. When someone doesn’t ‘fit in’ or needs an attitude adjustment, it tends to be quite noticeable.
Not fitting in can range from the seriously problematic, such as open hostility between a group and an individual, to things that just make you feel uneasy, such as an employee who doesn’t participate in conversations or is regarded by others as a ‘loner’.
When dealing with a difference between an individual and a group, it is easy to point the finger at the individual. But presumably you employed this person because you felt they would add positively to your team? If they have not, there may be something wrong with your recruitment strategy – or with your team.
Consider how your workplace culture affects the employee who doesn’t fit in. Is loud banter inhibiting a quiet person? Is an after-hours drinking culture alienating a teetotal employee? Is an older person feeling detached from younger colleagues?
A socially exclusive workplace culture will affect relationships and performance. If it excludes people on the basis of personal or cultural differences it could amount to discrimination – possibly even harassment or bullying – and may lead to legal action.
If any of your employees are guilty of discriminatory behaviour, you must deal with it appropriately. This might involve disciplinary action or training; it will almost certainly involve changing the workplace culture.
Build on anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment policies by fostering an ‘inclusive’ work culture. This could mean making sure no one is isolated by the layout of your workplace, for example, or putting them close to people they get on with but would not normally work alongside.
It might mean reminding senior, popular and influential staff to invite people into conversations. You might also consider team-building activities – if well-handled, these can help bring marginal employees into the fold.
Your observations might lead you to conclude that there is a problem with the individual which is affecting your business. You can only address an employee’s work performance or poor workplace conduct – you must not refer to personal or cultural differences.
If someone is missing performance targets or not contributing to the team when they should, you are entitled to ask why.
Invite them to an informal interview and ask them whether they perceive a problem and, if so, what they think might be done about it.
Your employee might feel they are being asked to perform tasks without proper training or that they are not being adequately supervised. Solid management and appraisal systems should be able to deal with such problems.
A more tricky scenario arises if the interview uncovers a personal issue that is affecting the employee’s work. You may be able to offer reasonable support to someone who is experiencing a difficult time outside work; but you may have to turn to your disciplinary procedure if the problem affects their performance severely.
If you feel an employee is not fitting in, you must not ignore it; but be frank and work with the employee to find solutions. You might find the process challenges your idea of what makes a good team; you might also find you have to revise your induction processes to ensure all new recruits settle in well.