Dealing with Difficult Employees at Work

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If you ask any manager about the challenges they deal with at work, they will most probably say that managing difficult employees is one of the hardest things they have to face. In general, there will be at least one employee who’s continuously underperforming, or is challenging to work with, or unable to get along with coworkers. Such employees mean well, but they don’t seem capable of creating thriving relationships in the workplace. It’s best to address this matter sooner rather than later to avoid any workplace conflicts that may arise down the road. Here are some tips that you need to follow to deal with difficult employees in the workplace.

Identify the issue at hand

You’ll need to pinpoint the type of negative behavior that the problematic employee is exhibiting and try to figure out why he/she behaves in such a manner. Ask yourself some questions to better evaluate whether the behavior can be tolerated or is significant enough and warrants further action from your end: Is he/she dealing with personal issues outside of work? Could it be that there is a flaw in the way that you are managing your employees? Is there anything that you can do to help resolve the issue? 

Listen carefully to the employee in question

When you’re unhappy with how an employee is behaving or performing at work, it can be easy to form unconscious biases against him/her. The best managers can step away from the situation and try to analyze it objectively and empathetically. Schedule a one-on-one with the employee and listen carefully to what they have to say. Present facts in a work-related context and avoid name-calling and labeling. You might be surprised to learn that listening to someone with sympathy can be enough for him/her to feel heard and improve their behavior.  

Give clear and constructive feedback

The ability to give clear and concise feedback sets a great manager apart from a mediocre one. Some managers will go round in circles for months (and sometimes even longer) complaining about the “difficult” employee because they feel uncomfortable giving harsh feedback. While it’s understandable that providing negative feedback is no walk in the park, however, it is something that you need to do as a leader. Great managers can objectively outline the adverse behavior while involving employees to be part of the solution. By creating a time-bound plan to overcome the problematic behavior and providing the employee with the right tools to monitor progress, you can put an end to it. 

Monitor progress

Now that you have identified the behavior the requires changing and had an open talk with the employee in question, all that’s left is to monitor progress. But before doing so, you must give your employee the time and resources needed to correct the behavior. Make sure that you also track positive changes in behavior and point them out. Schedule a sit down with your employee and discuss how their behavior has progressed and changed.

Take action 

Firing someone should be the last resort for any manager. If you have succeeded in transforming your employee’s behavior for the better and helped them reintegrate with their team, great! Ensure you continue to provide your employee with the needed support and tools to keep them moving on the right track. If the employee fails to improve, you might want to consult with HR to suggest disciplinary actions depending on the severity of the situation. If the employee continues to exhibit damaging negative behavior, terminating him/or maybe the only way left to improve the situation. 

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