Managing difficult employees isn’t the easiest of tasks, but it must be done efficiently to ensure all parties are satisfied and issues don’t implode. We share 15 tips on managing difficult employees, including the use of digital tools.

Table of contents
  1. Questions To Answer Before Dealing With Difficult Employees
  2. Evaluate The Situation
  3. Observe The Situation
  4. Develop A Plan
  5. Confront The Problem
  6. Focus On The Behavior, Not The Person
  7. Avoid Drama
  8. Listen Well
  9. Look At The Reasons Behind The Behavior
  10. Develop A Solution Together
  11. Give Clear Feedback
  12. Follow Up As Often As Needed
  13. Know When You’re Near The End
  14. Know When You’ve Reached The End
  15. Be Consistent
  16. Document Everything
  17. Use Digital Tools When Difficult Employee Situations Arise
  18. The Bottom Line On Managing Difficult Employees

At some point, you are going to encounter the reality of dealing with difficult employees and it’ll make you want to pull your hair out.

However, don’t ignore difficult employee situations.

You need to confront it head-on, and quickly, in order to remedy the situation.

The best managers rely on a deliberate approach, such as planning ahead and offering constructive feedback, when dealing with difficult employees. (We outline our tips on this further down.)

Then again, the best managers aren’t born into leadership roles, if you’re looking to improve your own managerial skills to enhance employee engagement, read our blog on effective tips to be a better manager.

Questions To Answer Before Dealing With Difficult Employees

When you study the situation caused by the difficult employee and prepare yourself to talk with the difficult employee, ask yourself the following before making a move:

  • What is the employee’s interaction like with his/her coworkers?
  • Recently, what changes have you noticed in the employee’s attitude? (Like the past few days or weeks.)
  • Has the employee’s workload or responsibility changed?
  • Recently, did something happen in the employee’s personal life that could have lead to this? Such as divorce or separation, death in the family, etc.
  • Does this employee have a history of bad behavior?
  • Is it a problem with a single employee or the entire team?

Once you have all the answers to the questions above, and you are certain the problem is with one employee then it is time to handle the problem privately and respectfully. Do not fall into the trap of working around the problem or just waiting it out (like the employee quitting).

In this blog, we outline the best tips when dealing with difficult employees.

Evaluate The Situation

Don’t rush into the situation without all the facts. Yes, you should handle the issue as soon as possible but you need a clear perspective to evaluate the situation first. For instance, observe the employee in various situations, like during their lunch break, when they arrive and leave, and so on.

Look for stressful or toxic situations that may cause poor behavior and also look at how other employees react to the difficult employee. And the last thing you want is stressed out employees.

Observe The Situation

As we said, don’t rush into the problem head-on. Be sure to fact-check. Talk with employees who are on the same team or are friendly with the difficult employee. Gather all the necessary facts and don’t forget that sometimes, people just have a bad day or week. If an employee who is usually great to work with suddenly becomes difficult, it may be due to extenuating circumstances.

Create an effective training program to ensure you’re getting the most out of your employees.

Develop A Plan

Based on everything you have observed and the information gathered, you need to determine if the employees need coaching, counseling, training, or discipline.

  • Coaching focuses on modifying specific behavior(s).
  • Counseling focuses on the larger problem behaviors, which can lead to coaching activities.
  • Training focuses on supporting the employee’s skills development and can help fill knowledge gaps.
  • Discipline focuses on immediate improvement with implications and will involve HR.

The time you spend mapping out which route to take can be crucial in setting a calm, open environment to frame the situation accordingly. Consider writing down talking points you want to mention and remember to stay calm.

how to manage difficult employees talking points

Confront The Problem

Whatever you do, do not put this off. While it is unpleasant, it is a crucial part of a manager’s job. The problem will not fix itself, it will only get worse. Remember, you planned for the confrontation so make sure you follow through.

As a manager, you need to make sure the employee is aware of the problem(s) they cause in the workplace. Sometimes an employee may be blind to the negativity and that’s where you come in. So, as the manager, schedule a time to talk with the employee to make them aware of their behavior – awareness is the first step to dealing with difficult employees.

Ensure that you’re communicating effectively with your team and if you’re not sure where to start, this blog can be a big help.

Focus On The Behavior, Not The Person

You shouldn’t tackle this problem as a “win” but rather find a solution to the problem. You are not there to attack the person but instead, you need to focus on the negative behavior. You cannot assume that the employee is purposely causing the negativity, it may stem from personal problems, no motivation, fear, etc.

Avoid Drama

Remember to stay calm when conflicts pop up. There may be some difficult employees who do enjoy causing mayhem so do not let yourself fall into the trap. It is important not to lose your cool!

A lot of drama can be avoided if you build a healthy company culture.

Listen Well

Do not stop paying attention to what is really on when dealing with difficult employees. The situation might feel hopeless, you might be irritated and you may have already made up your mind without doing any fact-checking. Stop. Don’t turn away from the problem and don’t become frustrated, the best managers are attentive when dealing with difficult employees.

A good manager knows they need to get to the heart of the matter and that includes seeing things from the difficult employee’s perspective. Know that sometimes listening is your superpower because sometimes people just need to be heard.

Look At The Reasons Behind The Behavior

Don’t just listen when dealing with difficult employees, really listen to what they are saying. Be sure to ask open-ended questions so you don’t just get one-word answers and don’t interrupt.

When you need to respond, remain calm and start by summarizing what they just said, “So from what I understand, you are saying…” This way, the employee knows you have truly heard them. When you can figure out the real problem, you are that much closer to finding a solution.

Develop A Solution Together

Both you and the difficult employee should agree on the solution. Without a solution, the bad behavior will only continue. The employee should be aware of what is wrong with their behavior and how they can adjust their behavior accordingly.

Perhaps some employee incentives early on and on a regular basis can do the trick as well so you’re keeping everyone engaged.

Give Clear Feedback

Don’t complain about the employee! Especially not in the workplace where others can overhear you. Gossip can spread like wildfire.

Instead, provide genuine feedback on how they can improve. While it appears tough, it is what a good manager does. You don’t want the employee to be on the defensive and you want to give them specific details on how they can improve. Be crystal clear!

Give feedback when dealing with difficult employees

Follow Up As Often As Needed

When dealing with minor problems, like an employee being consistently late to work, a simple chat can correct the problem. However, some issues may involve multiple meetings until a solution is found. Be patient, instant results are impossible when dealing with major problems. So offer continuous improvement instead of a quick answer.

Know When You’re Near The End

When dealing with difficult employees, you may find that you are not fully equipped to help the employee. For instance, he/she may have psychological problems that require professional help. It is important you know when to keep trying and when the employee needs specialized help.

If your company has an employee assistance problem, refer to this or rely on community resources.

Know When You’ve Reached The End

When dealing with difficult employees, the goal is to find a solution both parties accept, one that resolves the bad behavior and betters the team. However, that isn’t always possible. When you’re at an impasse because the employee refuses to change their behavior, termination may be the only solution.

Ensure you have a proper offboarding process in place.

Be Consistent

If there is a behavior you are not okay with, do not sometimes be okay with it. For example, if employees need to submit their hours by the end of the month at 4 PM but you flip-flop with being okay with it sometimes and sometimes you aren’t. If you have “less-good” employees, they won’t stick to the rule so set standards you will actually follow through with.

Document Everything

Documenting everything is key for establishing whether goals were met, when problems started and what happened along the way. If you do not have a record of an employee’s behavior, you don’t have “rights” to let the employee go. HR will need proof if the termination is imminent.

A good manager knows that documenting everything is key to solving problems, just because you write things down doesn’t mean you are acting negative, you are being proactive.

Use Digital Tools When Difficult Employee Situations Arise

If you have deskless or frontline employees or are still adjusting to a work from home situation, it’s more critical than ever to engage your team before difficult employee situations arise.

Many managers are relying on employee communication apps, like Connecteam, to be able to reach their teams in real-time. Connecteam allows you to manage communication with your employees in a positive and healthy way.

For example, with Connecteam, managers benefit from the following features when it comes to managing difficult employees.

  • 1:1 or group chat allows you to manage,regulate and encourage open communication. If a comment is shared that is inappropropriate or negative, management can simply remove the comment so it doesn’t affect anyone. 
  • Refer to the social feed to share announcements, positive messages, the employee of the month, and whatever else you fancy. Include GIFS, photos, videos and other content types to make communication fun.
  • Start a live poll so everyone feels like they’re direclty impacting the company.
  • A monthly survey can be shared regulary so you can keep a pulse on employee happiness.
  • Ensure the suggestion box is readily available so your team can add their thoughts and ideas whenever the mood strikes.
  • Upload material to the library employees can refer to like company policy, stress management videos, etc.

Positively Manage Communication With Your Team

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The Bottom Line On Managing Difficult Employees

When you use these tips for dealing with difficult employees, you can rest assured that everything within your power was done in the toughest of situations.

Open dialogue, that works both ways, and a healthy company culture that invokes engagement and better productivity is key.

When difficult employee situations arise, burying your head in the sand is never the answer. We have shared 15 tips you can refer to when managing difficult employees, including implementing a digital tool so it’s managed in real-time.

Build A Healthy Company Culture With Connecteam

A full suite of features to ensure employee engagement and productivity.

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