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Strategies for Managing Difficult Employees

Strategies for Managing Difficult Employees

Are you and your staff dealing with a difficult employee who may be adequate—even good—at their job but who constantly complains and stirs up discontent? The danger with these employees is that their behaviour can easily spread to and infect others on your team creating a toxic environment that is challenging for everyone on the team.

Such difficult employees can affect your department’s bottom line more than you might think. In fact, a negative attitude can have a far bigger ripple effect on a department than one employee’s deficient skills.

That is why, when it comes to managing difficult employees and dealing with problematic workplace behaviour, it is crucial to face the potentially toxic problem head-on.

Provide Clear Expectations for Workplace Behaviour

Actress Mae West was famous for saying, “It is not what I say; it is the way that I say it. It is not what I do; it is the way that I do it.” Your job will be easier if your employees understand that their job isn’t just about what they accomplish, but also how they accomplish it.

Clearly articulate to all of your employees that you expect more than just efficient individual contributions from them. Rather, each person is responsible for building a respectful, collaborative team environment that supports the department’s overall productivity and goals, and the company as a whole.

Another helpful strategy for managing difficult employees is to provide a rating system in employee performance reviews that measures each staff member’s contribution to the overall functioning and morale of the department. With this approach, there is less of a chance someone will claim they are being singled out when you are having conversations about behaviours.

Generalise this expectation to all staff. Send and regularly reinforce the message that the way employees work with each other and support the overarching goals of the department are as much performance variables as meeting sales figures or project deadlines.

Consult HR for Difficult Employees

Because it’s hard to quantify these critical “soft” interpersonal issues, many supervisors have trouble effectively managing difficult employees. They avoid taking the necessary steps toward change by having difficult conversations until they are frustrated and the department’s morale has already been affected.

Even before you have an uncomfortable conversation with your difficult employees, take a first step by consulting your human resources department. HR personnel can advise you on needed documentation, timeframes, and how your organisation’s own culture addresses these issues, as well as next steps for you to take.

Confront Your Trouble Employee Tactfully

Most managers don’t enjoy tackling difficult personnel issues. We’ve put together a list of steps that can help you handle the situation tactfully:

  • Stay calm. Park your own frustration at the door. By the time many managers finally confront a negative employee, they’ve been picking up the pieces for quite a while, helping other staff cope with the negativity, and even designing workarounds to maintain peace. Despite the mounting frustration, airing it in a confrontational manner will only diminish your chances of fixing the problem.
  • Avoid attitude. Don’t describe the employee’s issue as an attitude problem. This is too subjective and will probably be viewed as personal dislike rather than a legitimate performance problem. Cite specific examples of problematic workplace behaviour, drawing the relationship between the negative behaviour and staff productivity and morale.
  • Provide resources. Refer them to resources that can coax them out of a negative pattern of behaviour. Many organisations have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that confidentially advise employees. By doing this, you identify the problem behaviour and also send the message that you want the person to change and are willing to help and support this endeavour.

Remaining calm, objective, and helpful increases your chances of achieving a favourable outcome for both the employee, your department, and you. By addressing difficult employees, you send the message to your workforce that you are a strong manager who’s up to the task. You also reinforce the beneficial contributions of your hardworking staff by handling difficult employees quickly and respectfully.

Are You Managing Difficult Employees? We Can Help

It’s not always easy to know what to do in every situation. That’s why it helps to have a partner like Monster. We are connected with employers like you every day and understand the challenges of both recruiting and retaining good employees. Stay connected with us and post your job opening for free on Monster.