5 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Employees

Linda Jenkins, September 26 2015

Employees who are difficult to manage, perhaps because they are lazy or demonstrate an "attitude," are a source of frustration for many business owners. Such employees often take up much of an employer's valuable time and can be emotionally draining. Here are five tips for dealing with difficult employees.

Listen to your employees

It may be that on occasion an employee has a reason for being difficult. This is why it is important to listen carefully to their grievance, whatever it may be. The best way for an employer to resolve a difficult situation is to understand it fully, and this includes seeing the problem from your employee's point of view. Sometimes a difficult employee just needs to be heard. By listening, you may find the problem resolves itself, or you may expose a deeper issue that needs to be dealt with. Whatever the outcome, it can do no harm to simply listen.

Provide feedback

A common complaint among employees is that their boss only tells them when they do something wrong, choosing to ignore all of the things they do right. If you remember to offer praise when it is deserved, your difficult employee may turn into one who feels appreciated. Sometimes an employee might be difficult because they have an insufficient understanding of the job they are expected to do. If this appears to be the case, provide clear instructions on what is to be done and how it can be achieved. If you need to be critical of work your difficult employee has carried out, do not deliver the criticism harshly, as this will cause ill-feeling; instead, sandwich your criticism between praise.

Keep some things to yourself

An employee's difficult behavior may cause you to feel resentful or angry, but you would be better served if you never allow your work colleagues and staff to see you display such negativity. Bad-mouthing a member of staff has its own consequences, as it suggests to other employees that you don't respect those who work for you and that they could suffer similar treatment at your hands. This does not engender the employee loyalty you would hope for, so never disparage your difficult employee or lose your temper in front of them or others.

Get it in writing

If, after listening and providing constructive feedback, your employee is still being difficult, it should become clear that the problem is unlikely to be with you or your company. Some people are simply difficult by nature. However, laws protect employees from being summarily dismissed, so you need to make a record of the problems you are having. Keep track of all key incidents, noting the date, the nature of the problem, how it was handled, and the names of witnesses, if any. Documenting incidents can be as simple as emailing a summary of your meeting notes to appropriate persons.

Let there be consequences

An employee who consistently gets away with bad behavior has little incentive to change. This is why you should make it clear there will be consequences to the way they act. Your company should already exercise a disciplinary procedure, such as sending a misbehaving employee three written warnings. Legally, this gives you the right to terminate their employment if their bad behavior continues after their final warning. However, if you do not want to be forced to fire someone, you have to institute other forms of behavioral control. This could include eliminating any chance of promotion or salary increase. Whatever form the consequences will take, be straightforward with the employee so they know exactly where they stand, and make sure all of your employees are aware of your workplace policies.

A difficult employee can have a polluting effect in a company, spreading their dissatisfaction and unhappiness to other staff and affecting the success of the business. By following these five tips to become a good manager who can easily handle difficult employees, you can ensure the smooth running of your business.