how to deal with difficult employees

6 Tactics For Dealing With Difficult Employees In Your Company

March 6, 2019

Every experienced manager has likely had an employee who just gets under their skin.

Whether it’s that employee who is arrogant, rude, or otherwise inconsiderate to their colleagues, the employee who clips their fingernails at their desk (or some other atrocious behavior that impacts others), or the employee who never meets deadlines and has more excuses than you can count, difficult employees can seriously affect both your team’s morale and also your own sanity as a manager.

The good news is that difficult employees give you a chance to flex your management skills and set a better tone for your team.

Use these 6 tactics to deal with the difficult employees in your company, turning the challenge into an opportunity for learning and growth for all:

1. Be Honest

Honesty is the best way to bring about change, and it’s a crucial component of good management. However, it takes practice to become comfortable having difficult conversations with an employee. Before you meet, rehearse key talking points if you need to. The most effective discussions come when you have clear, specific behaviors to point to.

For example, rather than saying, “Jim, you’re condescending and rude to your colleagues,” try, “Jim, you frequently cut off female workers, dismiss others’ ideas in front of the entire team, and routinely exclude Lucy and Lamar from planning meetings. We need to address this pattern of behavior.”

2. Listen to Their Concerns

Sometimes, bad behavior at work is actually a reflection of other things going on that you might not be aware of. After bringing up your concerns, sit back and listen to your employee. Rather than spouting out what you think and what needs to be done right away, take a moment to ask them “What is your perspective on this?”

What you’ll sometimes find is that the employee will share ongoing problems in their personal or professional life that might have impacted their behavior, or share an eye-opening perspective that you hadn’t though of. The idea is to keep an open mind to the employee’s feedback. A conversation in which you openly listen has much greater potential for change than one in which you are adversarial.

3. Provide a Clear Action Plan

Both parties should come out of the meeting knowing exactly what the problem is and what the plan is to improve it. Whether this means a blanket ban on employees eating smelly fish at their desk or a performance improvement plan to increase sales calls by 20% over a three-month period, you and the challenging employee need to get on the same page.

The best action plans come from collaborative discussions in which each party feels as though they have some ownership over the result. End your meeting by summing up your agreed-upon actions, including a plan to follow up after a predetermined period.

4. Be Consistent

Particularly when it comes to performance improvement, consistency is key. Only half of employees know what is expected of them at work, so be explicit in your expectations. Then, provide regular feedback about performance. If you’re trying to improve a particular behavior, model that behavior (e.g., letting your employees present their ideas during meetings) consistently for your problematic team member.

5. Follow Up

Poor performance or negative workplace habits rarely get solved in a single conversation. Your first meeting about the problem is simply the prelude to a longer conversation that may unfold over weeks or months. Give your employee time to enact your agreed-upon action plan, and then follow up. Reinforce any improvements in behavior, and reiterate your concerns if the behavior hasn’t change. Set deadlines with firm consequences to ensure things stay on track.

6. Document, Document, Document!

Documentation is helpful for remembering all of the progress you’ve made with them, but also, it’s also a critical step for building a narrative about an employee’s poor performance, particularly if you think the concerns are significant enough to affect his or her promotion or continued employment at your company. Getting in a “he said, she said” scenario when you try to bring about ways to improve employee performance and / or behavior can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Instead, keep a log documenting all of the problematic behaviors or performance the employee repeatedly exhibits. This can be things you’ve personally seen or concerns brought to your attention by others. Also document the content of your meetings, including what was discussed, the employee’s reaction to your concerns, and your plan of action. Thorough documentation can be a lifesaver down the line, particularly if you really do need to consider terminating employment and/ or if the ex-employee ends up pursuing a legal battle.



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Linda Le Phan
Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu.

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