A Manager’s Guide to Dealing With Difficult Employees

Posted on June 22, 2017 by Rick Rossignol

No matter the profession, managers inevitably will have to deal with the dreaded difficult employee. Whether that employee is the lone wolf, negative Nancy, or underachiever, uncooperative employees with bad attitudes can infect workplace morale and compromise productivity.

Hoping for the best and ignoring the problem is not a solution- it can only exacerbate the issue by allowing bad behaviors to continue, setting a poor example for other workers. Instead, great leaders will address undesirable employee behaviors head-on and actively implement the steps needed to resolve the issue.

Developing a solid strategy to correct problematic employee behavior will help you keep your workplace running smoothly and cooperatively. Keep reading for some helpful suggestions to incorporate into your management strategy.

The beginning to any solution is to LISTEN and OBSERVE.

You should never base actions on assumptions. If you want to solve a problem, you need to get to the core of it by paying close attention to the reality of the situation. Ask questions: Why is the employee acting out? Are they simply a bad fit for the job or are they frustrated about something? Think like a therapist. You may come to find your employee hasn’t found the right work-life balance. Or maybe you find they’re not being challenged by the position and slack off as a result. Whatever the cause, you’ll usually find that frustrations arise from misunderstandings- which brings us to our next point.

Communicate: Be clear. Get specific.

Instead of complaining…coach. We all make mistakes. As a leader, it is your job to develop the strengths of your people and improve upon their weaknesses. If an employee isn’t performing according to your expectations, you need to provide them clear feedback which should include all the necessary information they need to make improvements. Don’t wag your finger or admonish them, guide them in the right direction.

Set concrete consequences. If the problem employee continues to exhibit the same disruptive behaviors, it’s time to sit them down and discuss what specifically will happen if they continue to be insubordinate. Remain calm, be patient, and let them know you’re having this conversation because you believe they can change. Then, call out specific behaviors, provide actionable solutions, set a deadline, and set explicit ramifications, such as termination, suspension, or demotion.

Document everything, even when you hope things will turn around.

Too often managers back themselves into a corner and render themselves incapable of clearing their work environment of bad seeds because they didn’t bother to document negative behaviors. Perhaps they thought the incident was a one-off or the problem would eventually resolve itself. Don’t make that mistake. Keep a record! And if you must take disciplinary actions, use write-ups and have the employee sign them. Documentation may provide legal protection for your company.

Listen, communicate, and document.

If you incorporate these tactics into your overall management strategy, you’ll find dealing with difficult employees becomes less stressful and your team will be more productive. If you’d like to learn more about effective people management or need specific advice on how to confront unruly workers, contact our human resources experts at RTR Consulting! We can act as your sole HR department or provide additional resources to help you overcome your most challenging employment dilemmas.

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