A disgruntled female employee trying to throw a desk at startled colleagues before running out of the office with as much office equipment as she could carry.
Two sales guys making obscene comments about a colleague and her family on instant messenger and accidentally leaving them for her to find when she came back from Christmas holidays.
A body odour problem so bad the smell pervaded the whole office in minutes of the employee’s arrival and had colleagues running to open a window.
These are just some of the awkward situations I had to deal with during a decade of running a business - and I could easily go on...
But how you deal with these sort of issues, and the hundreds of others that crop up when running a company, can really make a difference to the business and its success.
So here are some of the lessons I learnt (often the hard way)…
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Try to stay calm and collected
Dealing with difficult issues or difficult people is an occupational hazard of business. But if you blow your top, you can blow the trust and respect of colleagues forever.
Listen and try and understand the issue and then aim to be as reasonable and fair as possible in order to take the heat of the situation.
The disgruntled female employee I mentioned above throwing furniture was an intern who was going back to Germany and was worried about getting paid. But calmed down when we explained this would be made through payroll as normal. I am glad to say the furniture and office equipment suffering no lasting damage.
Show your sensitive side
Delicate employee issues are never easy to deal with. Serious health or family problems, relationship issues or drugs and alcohol - I saw more than my fair share over a decade.
From my experience, the best way to deal with these situations is to be as sensitive and sympathetic as possible. Take time to understand the situation, offer as much help and support as you can try and be as flexible as possible. This is not always easily done, especially in a small business where money is tight - but tackling a problem in the short term can save costs over the long run.
In fact a personal touch doesn’t have to cost the earth and can work wonders for company and employee morale.
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Don’t single people out
Personal hygiene problems right through to inappropriate behaviour or dress code can be a big cause of disruption for any business.
From colleagues determined to practice a ‘better out than in’ philosophy to work by belching and farting their way through meetings, to the impressionable young female colleague who appeared to wear little more than underwear to work - I have unfortunately seen (and in the case of the body odour problem I mentioned above smelt) it all.
Waving a fresh can of deodorant in the middle of the office and asking the BO offender does he know what this is - is never a good idea.
The only really effective way I have found to deal with this issue is to remind the company collectively what sort of standards are expected. If this delivered in a fair and sensible way you don’t have to point the finger at anybody.
Hopefully the employee gets the message and smartens up their act. A general note around to staff about the importance of personal hygiene and presentation certainly solved our particular odour problem without creating a different sort of stink.
Set an example
I made the mistake once of interviewing a potential candidate in a pub one Friday lunchtime. I started to become alarmed when he knocked back three pints to my one. But I thought no more of it as I went back to work.
Six hours later and going for a quick drink after work with colleagues I was shocked to see the interview candidate was still in the pub - a lot worse for wear. I left shortly afterwards. He stayed and I was told later by a colleague that the night ended with a tussle a broken window and an ambulance ride. The candidate appeared to have forgotten the incident when he rang up on Monday to ask if he got the job. Not surprisingly he hadn’t.
So as well as that invaluable lesson - never conduct a first interview in a pub - I also realised I needed to set the example. To approach work professionally and create a professional environment. Yes there was room for fun as building a great team that really bond and gel can be one of the best things about running a company. But there is a line and you need to be on the right side of it.
[Related link: How not to run a business]
Honesty is the best policy
Being upfront, open and straightforward with employees when a difficult issue arises is important. Acting quickly, fairly and decisively is also key. For example when we came back to work in the New Year we had no option but to sack the colleagues who left obscene messages on a colleague’s computer.
Yes it was difficult for a company which was still in its infancy (it pretty much wiped out our sales team at the time) but it was important to tackle the problem head on and also let the company know that behaviour like that would not be tolerated in the future.
Being open and honest also goes when communicating with clients. I remember when our US computer data centre was hit by lightening. The back up facility kicked in and our website continued to work. Only for the storm to carry on across the US and hit this data centre as well.
Lightening had literally struck twice. Explaining this to clients was difficult - as the situation did appear to be somewhat unlikely. But we took the bull by the horns and phoned them all up and explained what it would mean to their service and what we were going to do best.
One of the biggest lessons I learnt in business was it is not the inevitable problems you encounter but how you deal with them that really matters.
Andy Yates is an experienced entrepreneur, business mentor, advisor and angel investor and helps a portfolio of exciting growth businesses reach their potential including Huddlebuy, Europe’s largest business money saving website. Follow Andy on Twitter: @smallbizhelp Follow Huddlebuy on Twitter: @huddlebuy