Six ways to effectively manage difficult employees Thursday, April 11, 2019

No matter the industry you are in, facing challenges with a difficult employee or co-worker from time to time is inevitable. In  any organisation, particularly in a managerial or leadership position, you could be experiencing challenges within your team and the subsequent impact on your workplace culture.

Managing difficult employees is an essential leadership skill, and thankfully it’s one that can be learned. First, let’s look at a few forms of negative or challenging behaviour you might have to deal with from staff in your workplace.

Common forms of bad behaviour from employees

Employees who gain the label of ‘difficult’ often display one or more of these behaviours:

  • Lack of motivation/laziness
  • Negative attitude toward the company or co-workers
  • Bullying or argumentative

It’s important to note the difference between a difficult employee and one who is behaving in a way that would be described as workplace harassment. Keep a close eye on behaviour so you can stay on top of it and take appropriate action before it escalates.

The impact of challenging employees

Difficult employees or team members not only test your patience, but can create an unpleasant working environment for all. The substandard behaviour can permeate the working environment and result in broader workplace issues including:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Toxic culture
  • Employee stress
  • High staff turnover

Tips to handle difficult employees

Taking action toward remedying the problem is essential, and with the right strategies you can effectively manage challenging employees in your workplace.
Here are six top tips to help take the stress out of dealing with difficult employees and get a positive outcome:

1. Watch, listen, learn

The more information you have about the way your employee is creating challenging situations in the workplace, the better off you are. Once you get wind of an employee potentially behaving poorly, watch carefully, listen to your staff and take in as much information as possible to get a good understanding of what could be happening.

2. Make a plan

You know that you need to address your difficult employee, but make a plan first. Choose your timing carefully so no one is feeling highly stressed or rushed. It’s useful to start the conversation by asking how the employee is and finding out if there is anything going on in their life that might be impacting on their workplace behaviour. Don’t forget to make a note of each meeting or conversation pertaining to the issue.

3. Don’t attack or make it personal

Focus the discussion on company policy and appropriate versus unacceptable behaviour, rather than making it about the person. This keeps it professional and separates it from being an issue between you and the person in question. That’s not to say that you can’t be kind and supportive in your approach, particularly if the employee experiencing personal issues. Centre your discussion around company policy, workplace culture and creating a positive environment for all.

4. Work on a solution together

Deep dive into the behaviour that is not acceptable and try to find out where it is stemming from. Perhaps the solution can be found there? Ask the employee what they think and what they feel they need from you. Brainstorm together and identify opportunities to improve the situation. Show the employee that you value them and want to help create a fulfilling, enjoyable workplace.

5. Keep checking in

We can easily fall back in to bad habits, so keep checking in with your team, including any employees who have been labelled difficult from time to time. Make time to have a conversation with employees and keep an open line of communication, whether it’s through email, phone or in person.

6. Be aware when it has gone too far

Even the most capable manager can’t solve everything, and some situations with difficult employees simply cannot be resolved. It’s a sign of great leadership to know when you have done all you can and it’s time to commence the process of employment termination in line with company policy.

If you currently have a great team at work, consider how you can continue to keep them motivated, connected and fulfilled in the workplace. After all, prevention is better than cure!

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