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Difficult Employees

Confrontation in the workplace in the form of a difficult employee brings with it its own set of unique challenges.

Managing difficult employees can be a problem that can leave even the most seasoned manager shaking in their boots.  Based on this discomfort, the manager often takes the path of least resistance and either ignores the problem, or works around the difficult employee, which inevitably creates additional issues.

Case in point:  A friend relayed a very interesting workplace situation with a past employer that involved a co-worker who had a notorious reputation throughout the company of being especially unpleasant and divisive.

The friend worked on a team of five employees charged with providing financial support to a wide variety of clients within her company.How to Manage Problem Employees: A Step-by-Step Guide for Turning Difficult Employees into High Performers

One of the five employees, whom I’ll call “Grace” was routinely stubborn, unhelpful, and confrontational with anyone in the company who approached her for assistance with processing their invoices and reimbursements.

She let everyone know when she was in a bad mood and how her mood would affect the turnaround time of their request; that is if she bothered to acknowledge employee requests at all.  Grace’s attitude didn’t stop with her co-workers.  She was just as rude, even insubordinate, when interacting with her supervisor.

Grace had no qualms with telling her supervisor that she refused to perform the core functions of her job because she “didn’t have time”, the work “didn’t make sense”, or that she was bombarded with unreasonable, even unfair requests.

My friend found her co-workers’ behavior unconscionable, but what was even more disturbing to her as well as her co-workers was the fact that the supervisor enabled, even condoned the poor behavior by not addressing the behavior with the employee directly.  When staff brought their concerns to Grace’s supervisor, they were met with declarations of “You know Grace”, or, “She’s just joking”.

This supervisor’s lack of commitment in dealing with her problem employee created an even bigger issue: poor morale.  The supervisor was now faced with one difficult employee and a team of disillusioned employees.  As my friend conveyed to me, the team lost all respect for their supervisor who from their perspective, was not doing her job.  Some of her co-workers were actively looking for other jobs.

Confronting and managing a difficult employee is not easy, but it is a business necessity.  The stakes are high in terms of lost productivity, poor morale, and potential loss of staff, customers, and income.

Here are ten tips that will help you to take the steps needed to manage a difficult employee:

1.    Confront the issue or behavior immediately.  Don’t wait until the issue or behavior escalates into an unmanageable situation.

2.    Professional courtesy and confidentiality dictates that you have the difficult conversation in a private area such as your office or a conference room.

3.    Be specific about your concerns.  Let the employee know what you’ve heard or observed.

4.    Give the employee a chance to respond.

5.    Clearly articulate why the behavior or action is inappropriate and, provide an example(s) of the impact that the behavior has on the business, co-workers, and clients, if appropriate.

6.    Be clear about your expectations.  If the behavior needs to end immediately, say so.

7.    Let the employee know that you will be monitoring their behavior and that there will be consequences for any future infractions.

8.    Summarize the conversation in writing so that there is a document, which shows that the conversation took place and that the employee has been warned that their behavior must improve immediately.  Give the employee a copy and place a copy in their file.

9.    Be sure to monitor the situation and follow up with the employee as promised if there are further issues.

10.    Don’t shy away from terminating a difficult employee whose behavior does not improve.

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Dianne Shaddock

President and Founder at Easy Small Business HR
Get more tips on interviewing, hiring, managing and engaging your employees. Dianne Shaddock is the President of Easy Small Business HR, Employee Hiring and Managing Tips and the author of the eGuides, "How To Supervise:  What Your Boss Never Told You Before You Took the Job", A Step-By-Step Guide For New and Seasoned Managers and How To Find and Hire the Best Employees.

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