Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

How would a company boss deal with John Terry?

John Terry and Wayne Bridge
Previous tussles have been better-natured for Terry and Bridge

By Claire Heald
BBC News

Footballer John Terry's England captaincy is being called into question over allegations of an affair with a team-mate's ex. So how should a boss deal with such workplace dramas?

The Terry tittle-tattle at the office water cooler is strong stuff.

England team leader and married father of twins John Terry has disappointed. He's alleged to have had the affair with Vanessa Perroncel, team-mate Wayne Bridge's ex-partner and mother of their young son.

Wives are angry, players are under scrutiny and team-mates' loyalties are divided.

All this ahead of the summer's major business prospect, the World Cup in South Africa.

Toni Poole (left) and Vanessa Perroncel
'The worst thing you can do is pretend nothing is going on....

So what can or should a boss do in this kind of situation?

The world of football management is as macho, aggressive and competitive as the game itself.

Under England Manager Fabio Capello, the Don of no-nonsense, the management style is "more top down than bottom up".

It's an approach that's more common in the game than the industry boardroom, says Carey Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University.

But to get the best out of his team, Capello, like any good business manager, must first pull rank and find out the scale of potential interpersonal problems.

"I would bring the two [Terry and Bridge] in, and find out the extent of the injury, hostility and conflict between them," says Prof Cooper.

Timing of any decision is also key.

"For Capello, it's a good time to be having a knee operation," jokes Prof Cooper. The England manager is currently recuperating in Switzerland after surgery.

The Football Association has already hinted the England boss is in no rush to make a decision on Terry's future. Pressure is lowered as the squad next plays together in March.

Public anger, players' emotions and the level of interest will fade with time. If a manager needs to demote or redeploy someone because divisions remain unresolved, better to do it later than in the eye of the storm.

Dressing room drama

"These indiscretions need to be dealt with. You cannot behave in that way. You have to feel for Wayne Bridge in this situation."

So says Martin Keown, the former Arsenal, Aston Villa and Everton player-turned-pundit.

Favio Capello and John Terry
Hearing his staff's version of events is key for the boss

Those feelings are the important factor, says Mike Leibling, a mentor in workplace management and author.

Good managers should consult the team on their feelings and then acknowledge them.

"The worst thing you can do is pretend nothing is going on. You have to acknowledge it. You have to acknowledge people have feelings about it. And you have to get these feelings in the open."

Personally people might feel let down, he says, professionally they may feel it does not matter so much. But both sides must be addressed, especially as the personal feelings fuel the office gossip side of a drama.

Only after consultation, he says, can a manager reply that he has considered the team's feelings, reprise their suggestions and plan to move on.

Legal battles

When push comes to shove, however, in a messy employee dispute, bosses might well need to know their standing should the office battle advance to the court room.

Talking, feeling, and action plans aside, would it be right to sack a wrongdoer?

In a case like John Terry's, yes, says Jason Galbraith-Marten, an employment barrister at Cloisters chambers.

The awkward fall-out from relationships that go awry can justify termination of someone's employment.

Two competing legal principles come into play here.

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8, people can argue for the right respect for their private life.

If an employee complains of unfair dismissal, the courts have to rule and tend to be slow to sanction sacking due to a private action.

But that competes with the fact that for an employment contract to function, parties must have trust and confidence in each other.

If that stops, it can be a legitimate reason for bringing the relationship to an end.

The more senior the employee, the greater the degree of trust and confidence that resides in them - for the elevated, that can include the very image of the company, as well as responsibility for managing others.

More would be expected of John Terry than those more junior. Should he lose the England dressing room, there could be reason to say he cannot do the job.

A strong warning, then, to captains of football, and of industry both.

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