Management and leadership

Dealing with Difficult Employees

One of the hardest parts of being a supervisor is dealing with “difficult employees.” There is often no perfect solution. Many managers avoid dealing with difficult employees because it is time consuming and one of the most challenging parts of a supervisor’s job. With the day-to-day pressures of meeting and achieving the company’s goals and expectations in order to stay competitive, working with these types of employees often takes a low priority. It is much easier to ignore the situation and hope it goes away.

The rewards of taking the time to coach and work with a difficult employee can be well worth the time and energy. The end result could be a change in team dynamics for the better, improved morale, increased productivity and the difference of whether or not your organization’s goals are met. Most importantly, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences you may have as a supervisor. The first step is to evaluate the situation.

There are many reasons why an employee is “difficult” and some examples of this include: poor work habits (i.e. lack of organizational skill or interpersonal communication), lack of motivation or interest in the work, lack of training, conflicts with other team members, bullying or personal problems. These are just a few possibilities.

Once you’ve evaluated the situation, take a moment to consider whether or not the employee has worked for anyone else. This is important because if the employee has worked for other supervisors this behavior was probably allowed. If this type of behavior has worked for the employee in the past, why shouldn’t it work now? If this is the case, the sooner you meet with the employee to address the problem, the better it will be for everyone.

Consider the following strategy for your meeting with the employee:

1. Let the employee know the purpose of the one-on-one discussion (i.e. to review job performance).

2. Things to consider when meeting with the difficult employee:

  • Keep the meeting non-confrontational and stick to the facts.
  • Share your observations of specific behaviors and their impact.
  • Take the “personal” part out and confine your discussion to constructive feedback.
  • Take time to review job expectations and re-define the roles and responsibilities of the employee. This way there can be no misunderstanding of what the expectations are.
  • Identify any training/coaching needs that will help improve the employee’s skill level and confidence. If this is the case, develop a plan with the employee and schedule training and/or coaching. Be sure to follow through.
  • Remember to deal with the problem not the individual. This is often hard to do especially if the employee’s behavior has been allowed to continue for a long time and this is the first time it’s being addressed.
  • Give the employee an opportunity to talk while you listen but always keep control of the conversation. If the employee gets off track, turn the conversation around and bring it back to expectations and behavior. Remind the employee of the purpose of the meeting.
  • Try to understand the unique qualities the employee has and what they bring to the team. Work with the employee to use these qualities as a source of motivation for the employee.

3. Set a date and time for a follow up meeting to review progress as appropriate.

Remember, these are just a few suggestions for working with a difficult employee. There is no guarantee that you will be able to resolve the situation but it’s the best chance you have for turning a difficult employee around. It’s worth the time and effort to Enhance Human Performance to Drive Business Results™. The end result may just be the best thing for the employee, the team and your organization as a whole.

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