Ask Intronis: How should I handle a disgruntled employee?

Posted by Lauren Beliveau on Dec 19, 2016 7:14:00 AM

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Q: My MSP has a few large accounts, so our technicians are responsible for protecting a lot of sensitive data. My worst nightmare is having a disgruntled employee do something to deliberately compromise these relationships or undermine our security measures. We do our due diligence to protect the data, but there’s always that human aspect that worries me. How should I handle an unhappy employee if the problem does come up?

Dealing with disgruntled employees isn’t easy, and if it’s handled incorrectly it can be detrimental to your MSP business. So we can certainly see why that’s your worst nightmare. Thankfully, there are symptoms you can watch for so you can catch a problem early on and diffuse it before there are serious consequences.

Dealing with disgruntled employees can affect multiple parts of an organization, so we sought advice from Quiana Roy, our human resources coordinator, and Mark Conway, our IT system administrator. While an IT department tends to have a reactive role in this type of situation, an HR department usually takes a more proactive approach. But, both departments need to collaborate to effectively handle the situation and protect the business.

Why are employees becoming disgruntled?

Quiana explains that it’s important to have a good work environment for your team to walk into each day. If you have a good company culture, you should be able to promptly address that moment when an employee starts to take a turn for the worse. For example, you might see a change in the quality of their work, attendance, or attitude. Talk to them to determine where the downward spiral started so you can help address the underlying issue.

In HR you are many things: a friend, a parent, and sometimes even a therapist. You have to be able to reach people on a psychological level. Even small companies need to have an individual who can wear multiple hats and monitor the HR side of things. If you have a disgruntled employee, you need to find a way to deescalate the situation and remove the emotions from it so you can work from there.

29321580472_c352ec1961_o.jpgIf someone has become truly disgruntled, it means the problem has gone undetected for a while and you need to examine the extent of the damage. The best case scenario is coming to an agreement and solving the problem. The employee might still choose to leave, but if you can talk to them you have a better chance of having them leave amicably. If the situation is beyond salvaging, work on immediate transition methods and try to control the narrative in the case they talk to other employees.

From a technical standpoint

From my perspective, IT shouldn’t get involved in a situation like this until they’re notified by HR that the situation needs to take a technical stance, says Mark. But, IT shouldn’t take reactive measures right away. Doing so can push the disgruntled employee to act out before HR has had a chance to diffuse the situation. Waiting for direction from the HR department not only simplifies things, but it masks the monitoring your IT department might need to do behind closed doors.

It’s also important to enable your IT department to take the necessary precautionary measures to keep your technical assets safe. What hard tools and soft tools does the employee have access to? Be fully aware of every component they manage and how you can lock them out if necessary. You want to eliminate any possible retaliation, but locking them out shouldn’t be your first response. Subscribe to the Intronis blog

One person shouldn’t wear all the hats

A lot of IT companies rely on individual talent and have someone who does everything. Starting early on, document what they do. If something happens, who is going to pick up the pieces? Try to be prepared. Always document, and always cross train. There should be no specialized people. Everyone should have a primary and secondary focus to mitigate any damage that might be done. If there is only a primary individual, you won’t know the extent of the damage until after they’re long gone, Mark explains. And, make sure you backup. If you have good backups, the security risk isn’t as great. If a disgruntled employee has access to backups, restrict their access once they have given their notice.

At the end of the day

Ultimately, you’re dealing with people. If you focus solely on the operations of your business rather than your employees, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Try to connect with your employees and see how they respond. Most situations can be diffused, explains Quiana. You just need to recognize the shift in their attitude when it happens and be able to relate them on a personal level, and that will help you avoid needing to deal with more serious problems down the road.

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Photo credit: Miranda Mylne via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons 2.0

Ask Intronis is a weekly advice column answering common questions from MSPs and IT service providers. It covers topics ranging from pricing and selling to marketing and communications—and everything in between. Submit your questions by emailing AskIntronis@intronis.com.

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