How to Manage Difficult Employees

Tips to Deal with Difficult Employees

Interacting with difficult employees can be a major stressor for even the most experienced management professionals. However, if left unchecked, problem employees can poison overall employee performance and engagement levels.

Thankfully there are many best practice tips and tricks available for managing difficult employees including-

1. Initial Check-In

Make sure your human resources department is notified as soon as you, or someone else on staff, notices an employee exhibiting a bad attitude or witnesses any specific examples of misconduct.

The earlier a problem employee is identified, the more likely it is that their negative attitude or behavior can be adjusted.

Too often difficult employees are completely avoided or ignored which generally only worsens their behavior. In actuality, the best approach is to do the complete opposite, and check-in with the difficult employee directly to see if there is any employee assistance you can contribute.

Case studies have confirmed that staff members who feel valued have higher employee performance levels than those who feel ignored. Sometimes even the simple act of checking in with a problem employee is enough to amend their attitude or behavior problems.

Or perhaps you will be alerted to employee personal issues such as a family illness or death that explains a sudden behavioral shift

2. Extensively Document

Always thoroughly document specific examples of employee performance or behavior issues. Supply your HR department with a copy of any notes you take and request they are added to the appropriate employee personal file.

In the event that you must let an employee go, you will have supplemental documentation to support your decision. Supplemental material is invaluable if an employee tries to take your business to court on the grounds of wrongful termination.

3. Provide Feedback

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Although business owners or human resources employees may find some temporary stress relief in venting about a difficult employee behind their back, it is much more effective to directly give feedback to the actual problem employee. Providing difficult feedback is often considered to be one of the most challenging employee management tasks, but it is also one of the most crucial.

Make sure to supply specific examples of unwanted behaviors or actions when administering feedback to your employee. When providing feedback, stay calm and professional, even if the problem employee reacts negatively.

Offering feedback may absolve employee performance issues, especially if an employee was unaware that their performance or attitude was being perceived as problematic. Additionally, when employees regularly receive feedback they are less likely to develop problematic behaviors or attitudes.

4. Administer Consequences

A business owner or HR department staff member should give the problem employee specific examples of the consequences they will face if their behavior or actions do not change. Various consequences might include-

  • Write up
  • Probationary period
  • Demotion
  • Bonus refusal
  • Privileges revoked
  • Employee dismissal
An especially difficult employee may not make changes to their behavior without the impending threat of a major consequence. Supply employees with a clear deadline at which you expect behavioral changes to have occurred and monitor progress closely before administering the consequence.

Unfortunately, it may be time to seriously consider letting an employee go if they continually ignore feedback and refuse to amend problematic behaviors or attitudes.

5. Stay Consistent

Managing difficult employees is impossible if you yourself are inadequate as a management professional. Remember, employees often pay more attention to what you do than what you say.

Whether you are a small business owner or an owner of a large corporation,
set clear expectations with all employees, and enforce them fairly. If an employee witnesses you allowing someone else to do something that you condemned them for, they are less likely to respect or trust you.

6. Collaborate with Human Resources

Your HR department helps you stay calm and professional, even when engaging in the most difficult conversations with your employees. The guidance that your human resources department affords makes managing difficult employees considerably easier.

Your human resources department is a crucial asset should you decide to terminate an employee. Even before difficult employees are terminated, a business owner should be engaging in constant communication with their HR department about every problem employee on staff.

Before dismissing a staff member, confirm that their employee personal file has specific examples of employee performance or behavior issues. Consult with your human resources professionals to make sure you are following proper protocol throughout the entire disciplinary process.

7. Don't Gossip

Although some employees use gossip in an attempt to gain the trust of someone else on staff or build a connection, it actually ends up doing the opposite. Even more insidious is a management professional or business owner who badmouths their own employees.

In fact, your entire company culture and work environment are negatively affected by gossipy behaviors. Employees have much higher levels of respect for leaders who stay calm and deliver criticism directly to a difficult employee instead of talking behind their back.

Rather than continuously vent about a problem employee to someone else on staff, try confronting the actual issue instead.

8. Check Yourself

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Managing difficult employees is not an easy responsibility and it can be emotionally taxing for even the most seasoned business professionals. Before initiating any difficult conversations, make sure you feel that you can stay calm and professional throughout the entire interaction.

Carefully monitor your own self-talk, whether that self-talk is overly optimistic or negative. For example, both the thoughts Managing employees here is a waste of my time and This is a problem I can ignore and it will fix itself are detrimental to managing employees effectively.

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