Difficult employees can make a happy workplace a frustrated one. You know the type — they don’t listen to instructions, don’t follow directions, and generally think or act like they know best. Maybe they’re aloof and careless, putting the safety of others in jeopardy. However they upset the apple cart, they can breed dissent and disorder on your team.
As a manager, there are ways you can help correct the situation without directly dismissing the employee.
Here’s how to manage a difficult employee in the hopes of saving the relationship.
Talk it out.
This might feel a little awkward, but schedule a meeting with the employee and draw attention to their behavior. This one-on-one conversation should start from a place of respect and open-mindedness. Maybe something’s going on at home, and the change in personality will be short-lived. Maybe they’re not even aware they’re acting out. Use specific examples if needed but be prepared to be stern but understanding. Find out what’s causing the difficulties and see how things can be fixed.
Talk about how the employee’s work has changed and what might be done to improve it, if needed. Let them know how their attitude and behavior are affecting those around them. Bring out the highlights, too — if this person has been a top team member, remind them of that and how valuable they are to their team and the company.
Ask for feedback too.
Maybe there’s a new member on the team that has stirred things up, but, as a manager, you don’t see what’s happening. Ask the employee how they think things are going, what problems they’re having at work, whether anything’s changed that isn’t working anymore, etc. You might learn that there’s an environmental issue poisoning the well and that there’s a problem larger than one person being challenging.
Come up with corrective actions and stick to them.
Employees want to know their boundaries, just like kids. Establish what you want to see the employee do to improve the situation and make it clear that those expectations are clearly stated and understood. If things don’t get better, or if they improve for a day or a week and then backslide, have another conversation. Make it clear you mean business and are taking this seriously. Also, make it clear that there could be consequences for not adhering to these guidelines and that they will be implemented if needed.
This protects both you and the employee in the future. Take detailed notes about the conversation, including specific details about what was discussed, what was said, and any feedback you received that could be important to call on later. Also, note whether the employee seemed receptive or hostile toward the conversation. If the situation progresses to the point where disciplinary action needs to be taken, or the person needs to be let go, there will be an official record of steps made to try and rectify things.
Dealing with a difficult employee is something no manager ever wants to do, but it’s something most managers will have to address eventually. Going into this conversation with an open mind and a little empathy could make an awkward situation a little better and might help mend the rift before it becomes catastrophic.
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