How to Deal With a Difficult Employee

How to Deal With a Difficult Employee
  • Opening Intro -

    We have all worked with one. You know, the employee who just does not get along with people, an individual that employers label difficult.


That’s a polite term for someone everyone else thinks is a pain in the neck, a drama queen, or an instigator. Left unaddressed, the problem can fester to the point where the rest of your team’s productivity suffers, adversely affecting your bottom line.

Avoiding Litigation

Dealing with a difficult employee is a must, but how? We live in a litigious society and the difficult employee soon turns into an aggrieved employee, one who may respond by suing your company. In a worse case situation, this person might turn violent — the news is filled with stories about disgruntled employees taking matters into hand, often with deadly consequences.

The problem is such a big one for companies, that entire seminars and courses are offered by universities to teach employers how to deal with difficult employees. Businesses pay big money for guidance knowing that ignoring and mishandling the problem can be far more costly. Happily, your enterprise can get things under control, by incorporating the following management tools:

1. Gather information. You may know that a certain individual is a “pain in the neck” but you need hard evidence that their behavior is affecting productivity. You need to keep your ears open and listen for what is being said while avoiding relying on rumors that other employees may feed you. You need to focus on the individual’s actual job performance and be ready to outline remedial steps for performance improvement that you will share with the difficult employee. Expect to set some goals with incremental steps followed.

2. Speak with the employee. Equipped with the information you need to build your case, it is now time for you to meet with your employee privately. Avoidance and procrastination should be put to the side — you need to address the problem sooner, rather than later. For starters, you should focus on the employee’s positive contributions. Sure, you may have to look for these attributes, but generally everyone has them unless you hired a lousy employee from the get-go. You can then identify areas where the employee needs to make improvements and set goals. Then, outline the incremental steps that need to be taken to reach those goals.

3. Always be candid. Truth will certainly set you free. And set your employee free too. Always be respectful and do not avoid addressing the problem at hand. Expect to supply data to back up your point. Hearsay or conjecture is not sufficient and can worsen an already difficult problem. Avoid going after this person’s character and explain how you or another supervisor will help this person achieve his goals.

4. Handle conflict with grace. Your employee may not receive what you have to say to him without having a few choice words of his own to share. Under intense pressure, you need to maintain control and keep the conversation on the employee and your company’s requirements. If the employer makes excuses or casts blame elsewhere, you need to maintain your composure and return the conversation to what you expect of the employee.

5. Following up. With the initial conversation behind you and a remedial plan in place, you need to monitor the employee’s progress. That monitoring includes addressing behavioral issues that may arise in the interim as well as gauging the changes required to improve the employee’s performance. Follow up meetings with the employee, documented progress reports and regular feedback are steps that must be taken to demonstrate that you are serious in helping this employee improve.

Difficult Employee Considerations

When all is said and done, you hope to have an employee that is an asset, not a liability to your company. There will, however, be people that refuse to change or simply won’t be able to meet your goals for them. Be prepared to cut this person loose after several documented warnings have been made.

You may need to consult with your company’s attorney to ensure that every step in the redemptive process has been followed. Only then should you terminate the employee, a move that is of the last resort, but may be needful if employee morale is suffering.

See AlsoConflict Resolution in the Work Place


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Categories: Small Business

About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Matt's Musings", his personal blog. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and blogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".