10 Tips on Dealing With Difficult Employees
Dealing with Difficult Employees
Difficult employees can be the hardest thing that a manager has to deal with. Contracts, budgeting, and other work stresses don't compare when having to deal with a difficult employee.
A difficult employee may not be one that is causing problems or getting in trouble. It could be someone who is just under-performing in their current job role and needs to have that adjusted to make them more productive. Then again, a difficult employee can be one who knowingly breaks the rules, fails to do a job task multiple times, or is disrespectful.
This article provides tips on how to handle difficult employees as well as my own experiences.
How to Discipline an Employee
Tips on how to Handle Difficult Employees
Here are some tips that you will want to follow when dealing with a difficult employee:
- Adjust to their personality. When you are dealing with a difficult employee, ensure you do so in a way that fits their personality. You might be able to call someone in your office and talk to them one-on-one without any problems. However, the next person may not handle direct confrontation well. So adjust yourself to their personality. It will make the process that much easier.
- Keep documentation. Document employee mistakes and behavior. Some companies may not allow this without the employee's knowledge, but if you keep a personal log that is meant just for you and not their employee file, then you should be safe. If you do place something in their file, the employee should sign off on it so they know it's going in there and so they won't deny it in the future.
- Follow proper disciplinary procedures. Don't just go and fire someone. You don't want to risk a lawsuit even if you are in the right. Go through your organization's procedures when disciplining your employees. It will be hard for them to dispute it if you have all of your ducks in a row. Disciplinary steps are outlined later in this article.
- Don't be afraid to discipline your good employees. Sometimes it's necessary. Not everyone is perfect. If it's a small error you can let it slide, but if it isn't then you have to take action. If anything, the good employees will understand and learn from their mistakes.
- Back talking isn't that bad. This is something you will have to let roll off your back. Sometimes an employee will back talk. It happens. I have had employees do it in front of others and I have had to deal with it privately. Sometimes someone needs to vent. I have back-talked my own supervisor. This isn't that big of a deal. It can cause you to become more upset than anything else, but in the end it's petty. Be the levelheaded one and don't respond to it. In time they will back off if they see you aren't letting it upset you.
- Ask them questions. Ask them if they are having problems at home or if they are having problems at work. A lot of problems can be solved if you ask questions. It could be something simple that can be solved in a short amount of time and little effort.
- Reassign them. Sometimes a job isn't good for the person. It's not the fight fit. So try reassigning them to another task. You could find that they excel in that job task and your disciplinary issues will simply vanish.
- Keep a straight face. Your staff will try to use their emotions against you. They will cry or get angry or choose not to speak to you. Don't let it affect how you treat them. Don't come down harder on them or be more lenient because of how they act. If you treat everyone the same across the board, then they will see you are fair with everyone, and respect your decisions.
- Have someone else speak to them. The employee may react better when someone else talks to them. Maybe they feel uncomfortable coming to you about certain issues, so a neutral party may help bring them out of their shell.
- Challenge them. A difficult employee could just be bored with the job or tasks assigned to them. So they may have little to no job satisfaction. Giving them a harder task may correct their ways.
I also recommend picking up the book, It's Your Ship. It's a quick, great read that provides real world stories on being a manager in the workplace.
If you run a business, if you are responsible for a lot of people, you come to grips with the reality that you have to have discipline. You have to protect the enterprise in order to take care of the employees. So, therefore, you can't be wasteful. You can't squander things, or you jeopardize other people.— Steve Wynn
Disciplinary Steps for Employees
Below are some general steps you should take when disciplining an employee to ensure the proper steps are taken:
- Talk to the employee. Don't go right to writing someone up on their first offense. Talk to them a couple times when you see problems arise. Moving on to a write-up could make things a lot worse for you in the end. A simple word or two can solve a lot of problems, especially if you do it casually outside of your office.
- The write-up. In time a write-up may be needed. By this time you should have plenty of examples showing what the employee is doing wrong and what they must do to correct themselves. Don't go into excessive detail. This is a way to advise them that they need to correct their issues before you move on to more severe forms of discipline.
- The permanent write-up. If they still don't correct their issues, then you result in something permanent. This kind of write-up will stay in their file and could haunt them for their entire career, but could be necessary if you want to correct their actions.
- Plan for improvement. Perhaps the employee is not improving, but doesn't quite warrant termination. Instead, you will develop a plan that both you and the employee will be in agreement with. This requires a commitment from you to help them improve by working with them one-on-one. Something like this needs to be put in writing.
- Special evaluations. This is to give them a chance to improve, but helps pave way to termination. A 90-day evaluation, with evaluations every 30 days, can help solve the problems that the employee may have. It will allow you to outline the progress they have made or what else they need to work on. If they fail to succeed, then you can move on to termination.
- Termination. Obviously this means firing the employee. I strongly suggest you follow the steps above or your own organization's rules before you terminate the employee.
Keep in mind that you may skip these steps or change them around based on the issue at hand. There are times you may skip all of the steps and go right to termination.
My Experiences on Handling Difficult Employees
Below are a few experiences I had dealing with a difficult employee.
- I had an employee who was unprofessional and trying to get out of work. I spoke to the employee multiple times, but the issue was never resolved. Eventually I had to place this employee on a special evaluation that outlined what the issues were and what needed to be done to correct them. By the end of the evaluation, the corrective action was taken. This employee was a valuable employee until they retired.
- I had another employee who was constantly making mistakes. The mistakes were critical and were happening in different areas of this person's job. We spoke multiple times, write-ups were given, etc. Eventually we developed a plan of improvement. As part of this, I sat down with the employee to watch them perform their duties. Within minutes of observing the employee I saw that they were taking a shortcut in one of their processes. I instructed the employee to no longer to take that shortcut and soon the accuracy issues disappeared.
- One employee's personal problems resulted in a poor work performance overall. I consistently talked to this employee about their accuracy issues and other problems they were having in the office. It was one of my more experienced employees, so it was a surprise it was happening. This employee eventually opened up to another supervisor and my supervisor about some personal problems at home. She received the help she needed and soon her work performance improved.
- I had an employee who couldn't be helped. One of my trusted employee's started to have behavioral problems. This employee shared confidential information, knowingly disobeyed directives, etc. I had started a disciplinary process that included write-up's and a performance plan for improvement. I left that position before the disciplinary action could be concluded, but from what I understand there are still issues. Not everyone can be helped, so termination may be the only choice you have.
Do you have any experiences dealing with difficult employees? If so, share them in the comments below.
Disciplining New Employees
Disciplining new employees should be treated differently than your permanent employees. You will want to coach them and have them try to correct their ways, rather than moving to write-ups and other forms of discipline.
If during the period you have them on probation they still aren't working out, then cut your losses and terminate them. Sometimes an employee doesn't fit in with the job.
How to Terminate an Employee
Are you currently dealing with a difficult employee?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2012 David Livermore