How to Manage Difficult Employees

Employees who are difficult to manage can make your life absolutely miserable. They can be every bit as disruptive to the forward progress of your company as an employee who lacks the skills or initiative to do the job well. Unlike a fine wine, a difficult employee does not tend to get better as time goes on.

The first thing you should do with a difficult employee is to bite your tongue and try to woo him or her. Go out to lunch and try to develop a positive rapport with the person. Often there is some issue that is causing the negative behavior. Many times employees are very reluctant to discuss these issues, whether they are professional or personal in nature. A casual, relaxed setting may put them at ease. They may open up and tell you what’s really bugging them.

Often, the underlying causes of employees’ negative behavior patterns are quite simple. They may have the perception that they are not appreciated. They may feel they have not been complimented adequately for work well done. They may feel they deserve more attention. Remember, you should always be liberal with compliments. Key employees especially need attention from you. But this is advice that is easier to give than heed.

On the other hand, sometimes a difficult-to-manage employee’s behavior is the result of personal problems—an ailing parent, a runaway child, a divorce, or financial difficulties. In this case, you want to show that you understand the predicament. If at all possible, offer the employee time off or an adjustment in work hours so that he or she can focus on resolving the personal dilemma.

However, if the problem is of an ongoing nature and is having a serious negative impact on your workplace, you need to let the person know that some sort of resolution is imperative.

If the problem persists, have a formal, closed-door meeting with the employee and address the most obvious examples of his or her inappropriate behavior in a forthright manner.

If an employee remains difficult despite all attempts at building rapport or providing help, you need to make a careful assessment. Be honest with yourself. Do you simply dislike the employee in question? Are the difficulties you are experiencing perhaps minor in nature? If this is the case, drop the matter. But if the employee is truly exhibiting behavior problems that seriously disrupt the workplace, you need to take further action. Consider issuing a written warning that details the specific problems as clearly as possible.

If, after issuing such a warning, the employee’s bad behavior persists, you may feel that the only solution is termination. Consider consulting with an attorney before dismissing the employee. You need to know whether or not you have a strong enough case to withstand a potential lawsuit for wrongful firing. An employee who has been fired for issues relating to difficult behavior is much more likely to sue you than an employee fired due to a more measurable work criteria, such as failing to meet minimum quantity of work standards or sales quotas.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • Try to determine whether there is an underlying issue.
  • Try to be flexible if personal issues are involved.
  • However, a seriously difficult employee should not be tolerated.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.