Dealing With Problem Employees
(Editor’s note: This is the first part in a three-part series on Dealing With Difficult People in the Workplace. In the coming months, keep an eye out for parts two and three, “How to Handle Rude and Offensive Coworkers” and “How to Insulate Yourself From Negativity.”)
If you’ve ever worked in management or a leadership position, you’ve almost surely dealt with a problem employee. Rude, aggressive, insubordinate, untrustworthy, and unproductive — dealing with difficult workers is one of the greatest challenges you’ll face as a manager.
But how do you handle a problem employee? If you have the authority you can fire him or her, but that might have a negative impact on morale. You can keep giving the employee the work no one wants in the hope that he or she quits, but that might just make the problem worse. You can do nothing and hope the problem goes away, but it probably won’t.
No, the best thing you can do is work with the problem employee, get to the root of his or her issue, and find a way to deal with it. But how do you do that?
The first step to managing a difficult employee is to separate your personal and professional feelings. Regardless of the fact that this person drives you up the wall, you need to put your personal negative feelings away and assess his or her performance professionally and objectively. This is easier said than done, but it is absolutely crucial for making legitimate inroads with the person.
Next you need to approach the difficult worker in a nonthreatening manner. Find a time when you can get the problem worker alone and approach him or her in a way that isn’t angry or threatening, carefully explain your problems with the behavior, and solicit responses on how to change it.
Whatever happens, don’t get sucked into an argument. This is often exactly what the problem employee wants, and it will cause you to lose the upper hand in the conversation. Keep your cool, actively listen to what he or she is saying, and respond as you see fit. Don’t feel pressured to make a decision or change immediately; feel free to fall back to the position of discussing again at a future point.
When you feel like you have a good insight into what is causing this employee’s problem behaviors, identify and follow through on a plan to correct it. This is the most vital step, because if you don’t follow through, you risk exacerbating the situation.
When confronted with a rational argument from you, most employees will recognize their negative behavior and take steps to correct it. In any case, it’s of the utmost importance that you follow company guidelines for dealing with problem behavior and take timely action to turn it around.
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I have found that problem employees frequently feed on workplace issues and dredge up any ill-will they can with every employee, productive or not, that will listen. I have had good success in working through issues and getting resolution or at least silencing the complaints by "reverse engineering" the situation with the problem employee. This causes them to take apart their own complaint or issue and demonstrate either their complacency or inaction that frequently is present. It does not always apply, but when it does you can get great feedback if they choose to become more positive.
It's very rewarding when you do follow these steps and the employee or you have an "aha" moment and things work for the better. But then there are those who never come around and then the discipline process goes into affect and finally....you are able to eradicate that blight from your workforce. Good article. wish more would read and follow through...
Everything is this article is true and correct! You must follow the steps and the most important step is the last one which is follow through. I have seen managers fail because they don't follow through and the problem gets worst for that manager.
I like the fact that this is condensed and simple. I am going to ask five front line supervisors to read it and give me thier thoughts. If any one has front line supervisors you know how hard it is to get them to spend time on reading something like this. THX
This is such a great article!!! I am going to forward it to our "problem" manager.
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