HR Solutions

Skills Data, Retirement Benefits, Difficult Employees

By John Sweeney, Angela Stone, Naomi Cossack Jan 1, 2007

HR Magazine, January 2007 Q Our company appears unable to track the skills, knowledge and capabilities of our staff and then use these characteristics in business operations. What can we do to enhance this process?

A Historically, many organizations have built data storehouses of employee skills, knowledge and capabilities by capturing data from employees using various checklists and then inputting the raw data or codes into databases. Unfortunately, most of these databases have had limited search and/or retrieval capabilities, and these data compilation efforts have been less than successful in matching employee skills and talent with company needs in a timely manner. So why not revise the process?

Technological innovations such as scanning, data mining and enterprisewide software now enable an organization to capture, cross-utilize and retrieve information from diverse sources. Documents including resumes, employment applications, project management records, capability statements, workflow documents, department records, workforce forecasts, business development plans, performance appraisals, succession plans and employee wish lists can be organized in the company’s data warehouse to aid in the identification of employee talent, skills, knowledge and capabilities.

Once this veritable mother lode of data has been mined, it is amenable to being sorted, categorized and assessed to meet organizational needs. The organization can then begin to build its own detailed histories of each employee’s relevant skills, knowledge and capabilities, using the data in a format that is business-friendly. Employees can attest to the accuracy of the data by including this as a step in the existing processes for performance appraisal and succession planning.

A far larger universe of information coupled with the organization’s development of its own business-driven histories of employee capabilities could result in a giant step forward in matching employee skills with business requirements.

Data mining and warehousing techniques can serve not only as a useful strategic tool in meeting business needs but also as a tool for enhancing task and team performance, recognizing talent capabilities and development, and furthering business development goals.


Q How does the Pension Protection Act benefit domestic partners?

A The Pension Protection Act, signed into law by President Bush in August 2006, provides sweeping changes in retirement benefits. Two provisions afford relief to many non-spouse beneficiaries, including domestic partners, who in the past had limited options.

Under Section 829, domestic partners and other beneficiaries may roll over retirement benefits to an individual retirement account (IRA). Previously, non-spouse beneficiaries were required to cash out the retirement benefit, incurring a tax burden.

Suppose Martin’s partner, Joseph, passes away, and Martin, as Joseph’s designated beneficiary, will now receive a distribution from Joseph’s retirement account. The new law allows Martin to roll over the benefits into an IRA tax-free and will allow him to take distributions as needed.

The second provision, Section 826, modifies the rules for hardship distributions while an employee is still employed.

Participants are eligible to take a hardship distribution (as defined by IRS guidelines) for events that occur to a beneficiary, even if that beneficiary is not the worker’s spouse.

For example, Jane is injured in a car accident and incurs substantial hospital and therapy bills. Jane’s partner and beneficiary, Ann, can now elect to take a hardship distribution from her own retirement plan to assist in paying Jane’s medical expenses.

These two provisions of the Pension Protection Act are especially significant in ensuring that there are important protections in place for all retirement plan beneficiaries.


Q What is the best approach to take when dealing with an employee who is a fairly good performer but has a very poor attitude?

A At some point, most employers will have to deal with problem employee behaviors or attitudes.

The term “difficult employee” refers to those individuals who conduct themselves in a manner that is disrespectful and unprofessional to managers, co-workers or customers. These employees are often able to perform the basic functions of their jobs but with such negativity, animosity or poor attitude that they have a detrimental effect on their co-workers. Dealing with these employees can be a great challenge for employers.

When problematic employee attitudes arise within a workplace, employers must take swift and decisive action. Remember the old adage, “it only takes one rotten apple to ruin the bunch”? Difficult employee behaviors and attitudes that are not adequately addressed can develop into a company morale issue.

A few examples of difficult employee behaviors are:

  • Abusive, vulgar or rude language or conduct toward co-workers, managers or customers.
  • Tardiness/excessive absenteeism.
  • Poor or unprofessional quality of work.
  • Constant complaining, excessive gossiping, jealousy/envy of others, disruption, insubordination.

Below is a checklist of steps that management consulting experts and professionals can use when confronting difficult employee issues:

  • Identify the problem the employee is having, and document specific examples.
  • Initiate a meeting with the employee. Keep the discussion nonconfrontational and focused strictly on the documented performance problems. Provide the employee with specific examples.
  • Solicit feedback from the employee regarding how the problem can be resolved. Provide the employee with clear information regarding your expectations, specific goals, strategy and time frames for meeting those goals.
  • Conduct a follow-up meeting with the employee if he/she fails to meet the established goals. If behavior or performance does not improve, follow your own company’s disciplinary/termination policy.

Dealing with a difficult employee requires a great measure of grace and a firm grip on your own patience and temperament. Some difficult employees may simply be unwilling or unable to change despite management’s best efforts. When this occurs, termination may become necessary, and it becomes of even greater importance to have good written documentation in place.


John Sweeney, SPHR, GPHR, and Angela Stone, SPHR, are information specialists in the Society for Human Resource Managements Information Center. Naomi Cossack, SPHR, is manager of online content in the center.


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