School business managers may sometimes be called upon to deal with staff behaviour that is causing problems – this week we look at how to deal effectively with this thorny issue

Challenging behaviour and the disruption it causes in the workplace is an issue that will arise at some time or another, not just in schools but in industry too. A colleague contacted me recently to vent her frustration at the attitude and behaviour from one of her staff. I could relate to this frustration and our experiences were very similar and sometimes quite comical (can’t be mentioned here in case anyone takes offence). It’s OK to think of amusing scenarios as long as you don’t actually put them into action (eg a colleague who falls asleep in their lessons and the students draw diagrams on their faces, yes I do know a member of staff who constantly falls asleep in their lesson! Not at my school).

On a serious note, if you do have someone who you can confide in (who does not share your workplace), you will be able to collectively think of ways to address the situation. It does relieve the tension to get things off your chest. Sound management procedures should already be in place at your school to tackle challenging behaviour and any other disciplinary issues, especially when it persistently causes disruption amongst the workforce.

All school business managers (SBMs) have to deal with a challenging employee sometime during their career and it’s part of the management job; if you don’t tackle a situation early, then it will only get worse and have a wider impact on the rest of the workforce.

Be aware that it is not always the least pro-active employee who is the most challenging, and if you know that the behaviour of a member of staff is unusual and you have not witnessed it yourself, make discreet enquiries as to when the change was first noticed.

On the other hand, a member of staff may always have behaved this way and it is obvious that they believe this behaviour works best for them. I have seen colleagues refusing to go to a member of admin staff to ask for support because in the past that colleague had made it so difficult for them that they eventually gave up.

A direct, informal chat with the person causing concern, asking them how they are, how they feel their job is progressing, are they overloaded with work, etc, could be helpful in uncovering whether external pressures may be at the root of their behaviour.

If nothing is forthcoming then gently talk about how their behaviour is having an impact on the school. Offer them support where relevant, but be aware of how you present yourself to them; you do not want them to feel threatened, and indeed they may not be aware of how they are being perceived by others. Hopefully they may disclose an issue and then you are in the ideal position to see what the school can do for them, for example offering instrumental support by temporarily restructuring their role in order to reduce stress. Emotional support is just as important, so look at their development and pastoral care. Remember to schedule a follow-up meeting after this initial discussion.

Always examine your own behaviour before taking any action; ask yourself ‘Am I overreacting? Is it a personality clash?’ Try to think objectively. Always act on facts, collect information, interview people and make observations where possible – it is always easier if the behaviour has affected more than one colleague. Don’t delay your investigation just because you haven’t witnessed it; decide a plan and timeline and keep to it.

Bad managers

Writing this article has put little ‘niggles’ into my mind – what if it is the management that is the problem? Am I a bad manager? I remembered conversations with fellow students on my BA course about the misery of having a poor line manager. I actually used their comments in one of my assignments and have listed some of them below:

  • lack of communication and teambuilding
  • poor management style
  • showed no confidence in colleagues
  • never took time to see what we were doing or how we were managing
  • loved the sound of his own voice
  • made rude remarks.

Alarm bells ringing here, as I am always at my desk. I have so much desk work to do that I have let it take over. This should not happen; I control my work, I have a responsibility for my staff. Are my staff happy? Well here’s another admission, I have never actually asked them.

Using a 360-degree process would help me to answer this question, but is an intimidating prospect. I am sure if used correctly they can only be productive. How many other SBMs have conducted a 360-degree feedback? Please let me know if you have and how you faired.

360-degree feedback
In the 360-degree process, an individual is rated on their performance by the employees who they manage or are familiar with their work. It provides you with the opportunity to learn how your colleagues perceive you. Setting my nerves about the process aside, this feedback could be a powerful trigger for change.

SBMs need to consider whether the school supports open feedback, as it relies on the input of other employees and must be confidential to both the participant and the appraisers. Identifying the most appropriate employees to participate is a key part of the process and you should be involved in this. Between 7 and 12 employees is usually sufficient in terms of reliability of data. The questionnaire needs to be relevant to the appraisers and their relationship with you.

I understand that completion of the questionnaire takes 20-30 minutes. The feedback is usually a report and sensitivity in delivering it is essential. You should also be able to present your view on the process as well as measuring the impact it has had on your development.

There are plenty of examples of 360-degree questionnaires on the internet and you can (if budget allows) pay trained facilitators to assist you in the process. I would ask the HR department of your local authority if they have such a questionnaire available, and they may also be able to provide support to you to initiate the process.

Performance appraisals
Performance appraisals also play a part in managing the behaviour of your staff. It contributes to the effective management of individuals by establishing a shared understanding about what is to be achieved and helps to ensure that any targets are reached. Performance appraisals incorporate performance improvement, development and behaviour management. This will ensure your staff know and understand what is expected of them and have the skills to deliver these expectations. It also gives SBMs the opportunity to be aware of the impact their own behaviour has on the people that they manage.

Disciplinary procedures
Where you have no choice but to instigate disciplinary procedures it is imperative that you follow you’re the procedures established by the school’s governing body (Regulation 7, School Staffing [England] Regulations, 2009). Be aware that if the member of staff concerned is performing their role competently you may have difficulty in taking disciplinary action against them. In any such situation it is advisable to delay any performance appraisals with the individual until the issues have been resolved.

For SBMs working in foundation, voluntary aided and foundation special schools, the local authority does not have any statutory entitlement to advise the governing body in relation to the dismissal of teachers (including headteachers and deputy headteachers). However, it may do so where an agreement between the governing body and the local authority provides for this. Any agreement of this kind must be in writing and give details of what advisory entitlements the local authority has been given (Regulation 26, School Staffing [England] Regulations, 2009).

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010

About the author: Lindsey Lester is School Business Manager at St Martins Catholic School, Leicester