Knowledge Hub | Articles

23 May 2013

How do you deal with disinterested workers?

Many firms have them, but few managers know what to do with them - the disinterested workers who contribute little or nothing to your business. Jo Davis, partner in the employment practice at B P Collins LLP, explains what you can do with these ‘dead men walking’ in your firm.

The totally disinterested, who contribute little to the daily workload and then slide home apparently without a care, can suck the life out of a team and greatly reduce productivity. The impact of a majority of committed employees having to carry a minority of slackers is magnified in small firms, where everyone’s contribution is utterly essential. As an owner-manager, it’s important not to procrastinate when dealing with staff that turn up, go home and do little in between.


The first step is to ask whether they are unhappy and, if so, why. There may be serious personal difficulties outside work. Or you might have to face up to some home truths about what goes on in your business - is the employee being bullied, for example, or expected to do a job for which they haven’t been trained. It may be that you are not motivating them – which may simply be a question of adjusting your management style.

If you think the situation can be fixed, set some achievable, joint goals with your employee, backed up by training (with incentives that mean something to them) and monitor the situation through regular reviews and appraisals. In some cases, simply showing an interest can be enough to turn an employee around.


One option open to employers is to link performance to cash. This will, however, involve changing everyone's contract terms, which can only be done after consultation. But if you have a strong business case and the backing of committed employees, performance-related pay may be the way forward.

If this option sounds like side-stepping the issue (and in my experience it is generally best to address issues rather than ignore them) and you have an employee who is truly beyond redemption, you will need to start moving him towards the exit. Having - and following - written policies and procedures will help you avoid the employment tribunal.  No tribunal expects a company to keep someone who is a liability to the business, but to avoid an unfair dismissal claim you must follow a procedure of incremental warnings and give people help and support to enable them to improve.  If you don't, you could find that at the tribunal they claim all they needed was some training.

Agree terms

If the prospect of embarking on a capability procedure fills you with dread, you might choose to resort to a financial agreement to sever ties.

At the moment, employers need to exercise extreme caution when initiating such discussions, although the Government are committed to making the process easier.  It is wise to seek advice before broaching the question of an agreed exit but it can be done if handled carefully.  If terms for the employee to leave can be agreed, generally you will need the agreement to be recorded in a "settlement agreement".  For this to be valid, the employee must be advised by a solicitor and it is wise to instruct a solicitor yourself to ensure the document does what you need it to do.

This is a tricky area and the law is changing – so consider taking specialist legal advice if you are in any doubt about how to proceed.

Contact Jo Davis to discuss any areas of concern you might have with disinterested employees in your business on 01753 278659 or email

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Phone: +44 (0) 1753 889995


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