How to Deal with Difficult Employees: A Guide for Managers

Managers guide teams in many ways. They help their employees achieve company goals, provide assistance during projects and sometimes must direct conflict resolution. The best managers know how to do so in a way that promotes a peaceful working environment that establishes trust. When problems arise in the workplace, managers need to understand how to deal with difficult employees and know what to avoid.

 

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How to deal with difficult employees

When conflicts arise, it’s important to have a plan in place. Follow these steps to deal with difficult employees:

 

  1. Get more information
  2. Provide feedback
  3. Record negative behavior
  4. Provide consistent action
  5. Follow company policy
  6. Schedule a follow-up meeting
  7. Remain professional
  8. Keep a positive perspective
  9. Be willing to do hard things

 

1. Get more information

When you first become aware of an issue with an employee, it’s important to do some investigating of your own. Don’t assume that the information you’re hearing is correct. Spend time talking to the person who is the target of workplace gossip to see if you can figure out what is going on. If you don’t know this person well, make an effort to get to know them and establish trust before you get right to the point.

 

2. Provide feedback

Once you have the right information to make an informed decision, you’ll be able to move ahead with a solution. Meet with the employee to discuss what went wrong and how they can improve their work experience. Explain how problems in the workplace hinder productivity and, if possible, show the employee any facts and figures that demonstrate this. 

 

3. Record negative behavior

It’s important to keep a record of problems that affect workplace productivity, whether it involves a particular employee or several. Ignoring problematic situations only discredits others who may be experiencing the issues. Take time to write down the key points of the problem so you can better handle the situation. You may not need the list of offenses if problems get solved quickly, but if they escalate, having a record supports decisions regarding termination. 

 

4. Provide consistent action

Set high standards for your team by living the example you preach and following through every time with disciplinary measures. If you fail to meet deadlines or implement consequences, your employees may take that as an excuse to become less efficient.

 

5. Follow company policy

Most small businesses have company policies regarding conflict and how to handle difficult situations. If so, refer to the official policy before taking action. This helps in many ways. It guides you through the process of navigating difficult situations and provides a recommended course of action. Plus you can refer to the employee handbook when discussing any issues with your employees.

 

6. Schedule a follow-up meeting

After you’ve addressed the problem, make plans to follow up with the difficult employee by a certain date. Depending on the scale of the issue, you may choose to enforce specific consequences if certain behaviors don’t change or goals aren’t met in the designated period of time. For instance, an employee may lose their eligibility for a promotion, receive a warning or get terminated if things don’t change.

 

7. Remain professional

As a manager, you have the responsibility to set a good example for others in the workplace. If your coworkers or employees try to involve you in critical conversations, step back from the situation and remain neutral. Don’t engage in bad behavior. This will only make matters worse and cause your employees to distrust you. Their perception of you and any other people in management should be positive to encourage a safe environment. 

 

8. Keep a positive perspective

Your perspective regarding all conflicts should remain grounded and neutral. If you allow negative thoughts about the person in question to stay in your mind, you won’t be able to navigate the issue in an unbiased way. Consider both sides of any story and give difficult employees the chance to redeem bad behavior. 

 

9. Be willing to do hard things

At the end of the day, you may have to fire someone. Good managers have leadership qualities that set them apart from other employees, which involves making difficult decisions.

 

Related: How to Find Good Employees

 

Things to avoid

There are some things you should avoid when dealing with difficult employees. Here are the main offenses that managers make that only complicate any issue:

 

Ignoring the problem

People often endure the bad behavior of their coworkers for weeks or months before getting the courage to report it. They may have already tried to solve the issue on their own and had no success. That’s why it’s important to address issues promptly. This helps your employees feel valued, respected and heard. Ignoring the problem only makes things worse. 

 

Acting before getting the facts

When in doubt, always do some research before deciding how to handle an issue. Even if you’ve personally experienced the issue before, it helps to sit down with the offender to try and understand what is going on in their mind and offer support. You might be able to resolve any issues before they escalate.

 

Criticizing employees

Managers should never disrespect employees, especially around other people. Doing so only exacerbates the problem and causes others to doubt your conflict resolution abilities. Discourage criticism and don’t engage in negative discussions. 

 

Related: How to Reduce Employee Turnover

 

Difficult employee FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding difficult employees:

 

If I need a witness during conflict resolution, whom should I ask?

Enlist the help of your company’s human resources department when you need another person in the room during disciplinary meetings. You’ll want to brief the HR representative on the situation before you all meet together to ensure that everyone understands the situation and how it needs to be addressed. 

 

How do I ensure confidentiality?

When employees come to you in confidence, let them know that you will do everything possible to keep the information confidential, though you may need to consult with certain individuals if what they disclose involves sensitive information. Close your office door to avoid the chance of other people hearing and don’t tell others about the issue who don’t need to hear it.

 

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