How to Handle Difficult Employees in the Workplace

It’s a situation every manager dreads, but most will have to face at some point in their careers: The difficult employee. Whether in big ways or small, difficult employees can be very disruptive and can cause fractions in an otherwise close-knit team. 

Before throwing in the towel and thinking about cutting the employee loose, there are a few steps you can take to address the person and try to salvage the relationship instead. Here are some actions to consider. 

  • Talk about it.

    Schedule a one-on-one meeting with the employee to see what’s going on. It might be a simple miscommunication or lack of understanding that can be quickly and easily resolved. Or there might be issues going on in their personal life that are clouding their judgment at work, creating stress and a short temper. There might also be difficulties with a coworker that needs to be addressed. Don’t assume anything upfront; see what’s going on. They might not even be aware there’s a bad situation in process that needs to be corrected! In talking things through, you might understand better what’s happening and realize there’s a shift needed in your management style or communication efforts, making it a fruitful conversation on both sides. 

  • Provide clear expectations and establish a timeline for improvement.

    If the first conversation goes nowhere, or there are bigger issues in play, it’s time to take some corrective action. Establish and share with the employee your expectations for them, sticking with identifying the problematic actions and how you want things to be fixed or done differently. Set a timeline for improvement to take place and make it clear there will be repercussions if things don’t get better. Make it plain and simple that this is not something that will be tolerated and that there are consequences for bad behavior. 

  • Listen to and welcome, feedback.

    If the situation is getting worse or not improving, talk with the person again. See what’s going on with them and find out if the root cause of their trouble has changed or if it’s incapable of getting better. Ask whether there’s anything you need to do differently or if other employees are adding to the problem. In the meantime, it might be worth talking with your team to see if they’re having issues with the difficult employee as well — it could be a personal issue between you and them, or it might be bringing the whole team down, but no one wanted to speak up. Keep your proverbial door open to all of them to help make things better and move the team forward as a group. 

  • Follow up with the employee consistently.

    If you want to make sure the employee knows you’re serious about the expectations you’ve set, you have to check in on a consistent basis and let them know you’re watching. They need to see that this isn’t going away; it won’t be swept under the rug or lost in the shuffle of a busy workplace. Reiterate the possible repercussions of their attitude and performance not improving. Say the same things in order to drive the points home. The more people hear the same messages, the more they understand and learn and take the information to heart. 

  • Document everything.

    If there’s no paper trail, it’s a matter of relying on memory and who said what when. Write everything down and make copies available, digitally and/or on paper, for anyone who needs to have them: the employee, HR, a separate supervisor if that applies. This way, everyone has the same information in their hands and cannot deny or refute what was discussed, the problems identified, and what the expectations were for rectifying the situation. Keeping everyone on the same page will also help with consistency and will make things very easy to understand, plus, this becomes a benchmark against which to measure the employee’s improvement (or lack thereof). 

If, after the predetermined amount of time, you might decide that things just aren’t working out. You might have to terminate the employee, or they might announce they’re leaving for another position. Or the person might have seen the light and made the needed adjustments to get back on the right track. Either way, you will know you’ve done all you could to improve the situation. 

If you’re looking to add to your team or to replace a difficult employee who needed to go, call Debbie’s Staffing. We have well-qualified and trained employees who are looking for the opportunity to join a company just like yours, and they’re eager to get started soon. Call Debbie’s Staffing today, and let’s find your new employee! 

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