10 Management Tips for Dealing with Difficult Employees

Dealing with people, difficult or not, is a subject that never gets old. It is a field that experts in communication could discuss nonstop. Though these talks are interesting, they usually end up with nothing but unlimited hypotheses and nothing concrete. And what is a tired entrepreneur who is experiencing troubles with their stuff looking for?

Axioms! Simple and clear decisions they could apply to their professional life. So, to satisfy this request, let’s find out what “difficult employees” and “dealing with difficult employees” truly mean.

Who are difficult people?

“Difficult people” is a way too abstract term. We use it to refer to “someone who doesn’t share our views” as well as “someone who is mentally unstable”. Ordinarily, our employees are perfectly mentally stable and shouldn’t necessarily share our views. So what makes them difficult? Usually, it’s their attitude towards work, colleagues and/or their weak performance.

The “Dealing with difficult people” term has many meanings, too. It varies from “avoiding them” to “making them do what you want”. When we talk about difficult employees, we normally mean people who we value or who we truly want to help, so the mentioned meanings don’t work here.

Mostly, “dealing with difficult employees” means creating a comfortable work atmosphere for every employee in the company, including this very difficult one.

Thus, if a CEO or a manager is looking for tips on dealing with difficult employees, they aim to make the employee do their best, professionally and socially.

Got an employee who is wreaking havoc on your work process? Let’s see how you can deal with this situation.

Here is the list of 10 practical tips to help you deal with difficult employees and effectively organize your team for greater team management.

1. Do your research

When dealing with a difficult employee, be reasonable. Do not jump to conclusions. If you noticed the signs of inadequate behavior, try to understand what provoked it in the first place.

There is no worse thing in professional communication as prejudice. Do your research. Check if the difficult employee recently took some days off, observe if something changed in their habits. For example, they started coming home later. Or they don’t have lunch with colleagues as usual.

What could possibly happen? Is it stress? Maybe some unusual family circumstances? Lack of appreciation?

Detect the unusual circumstances, if there are any, and try to understand their nature.

Make sure nothing challenging is happening in your employee’s private life. Otherwise, you’ll make their complicated period in life even harder and just aggravate the difficult situation.

2. Give a clear message

Start with the simplest – talk. We tend to think what’s obvious to us is obvious to others, too. It’s a delusion. Have a private, candid talk with the employee that is hard to deal with.

Explain them the situation as you see it. Be sincere, but avoid judging. Stay open-minded. Make sure they know about the problem and are interested to work on it.

3. Document the things you said

Talk and then repeat everything by email or a message in a corporate chat. There are a few reasons you have to do it.

First, your difficult employee could be a visual type of person; they can miss what was said but would catch every word written. Second, documented discussions will help you prove your point if the situation will last longer as you expected.

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4. Get involved

This could be a challenge but do get involved. Sure, you have a lot of responsibilities and taking care of your employees’ feelings might not be one of them. You have a whole HR department to worry about it, right? When everyone in your team has great soft skills, this system works. But when there is a difficult employee in it – it cracks.

According to a survey conducted by a nonprofit group called Mental Health America and the Faas Foundation, 44 percent of employees believe that they are always or often overlooked. This could be a reason for difficult behavior!

No need to become friends. To start, get involved in your employee’s office life. Have lunch with them. Ask if they feel comfortable at work, if they need something. Hear them out and show that you care. Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

Also, tell something about yourself – it helps, too!

5. Build trust

A Harvard Business Review survey reveals that 58 percent of people say that they trust strangers more than their boss. Can you imagine? More than half of the stuff doesn’t trust their bosses. How on Earth could their performance be strong?

Show your employees they can trust you. Always keep your promises. Ask why they didn’t meet the deadline before judging them. Do not gossip about someone with other employees. Be professional, but supportive. Be a boss you always wanted to have.

6. Offer help

Be initiative.

If the situation doesn’t change, the difficult employee keeps performing weak or communicates toxically, make an offer. Cut current responsibilities off; offer a different position, etc. Make the changes on a temporary basis and wait for the outcome.

Also, you can offer them attend a professional training, a team-building party, or maybe create a  new lunch tradition, like playing kicker on Thursdays or any other team-building games, etc.

Be inventive.

Sometimes difficult employees don’t know why they are this way. Voice your concerns in a kind manner and help them understand what’s wrong. Because if it works, you’ll both win.

7. Follow up

Global studies reveal that 79 percent of people who quit their jobs cite “lack of appreciation” as their reason for leaving. So, track the progress.

Praise the employees if they earned it.

Offer a bonus. Simply say that you appreciate their impact. Many of us need to hear it to keep it up.

8. Stick to the company policy

If you have one, stick to it. If you don’t, create it and include a thorough paragraph about the termination process. Though we wouldn’t like to be radical, sometimes it is the only right decision. If nothing works or works not as you expected to, inform the employee about your decision.

No need to give your employee one last chance as soon as all the steps were taken. They have enough time to make conclusions. Be brave and open. There is nothing awful in termination, it is a part of a career path just as a job offer, and occasionally it is the best thing you could do for the employee.

9. Be consistent

Be firm and fair. Do everything you need to do as an employer to give the employee an appropriate goodbye. Provide a well-thought recommendation. Do not ruin the trust you’ve got.

Also, if there is another difficult employee, treat them the same way. It’s crucial to be consistent as it is your strong argument if any controversial situation occurs.

10. Let it be

Sooner or later, you would reach the point where your ways with your employee diverge. This time, it happened sooner. Thank them for what you created together and keep going where you are headed – only from now on, separately.

Human capital is extremely fragile. So, no wonder, each employee makes a difference – just like in out-of-the-office life. People want to be heard, supported, and appreciated. You give them that – they give you back a hundred times more. You give them freedom – you get it, too.

Do your duty, come what may.

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