How to Manage Difficult Employees

Some employees are a joy to work with. Others are more challenging. Most fall into both categories at one point or another, depending on their own internal states and what’s going on in their lives.

“Difficult employees” might be “difficult” for any number of reasons – and act out in any number of ways. Often, however, the same tools can be used to help them get past the “block” and get back on track. Here are some tactics to keep on hand when employee interactions get difficult:

  1. Start listening. It’s easy to assume that you know the reason an employee is having trouble or acting out. It’s harder to slow down and listen to the employee’s own reasons for the behavior. Managers who listen, however, do so because they know that the more they understand, the easier it is to find the root of the problem and set it straight. And in some cases, all the employee really wants is for you to listen – making the problem even easier to solve.
  2. Give clear and concrete feedback. Sometimes, the employee has an “external” problem you’ll need to solve by speaking to another employee, fixing or ordering new equipment, or making changes to the workflow. If the problem is the employee’s own performance, however, empower them to solve it on their own by providing clear, concrete steps to take. Think in terms of creating SMART goals: Make your expectations specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based.
  3. Be consistent and set consequences. If your workplace has rules, stick to them all the time. Employees notice when rules are intermittently enforced – and the inconsistency undermines their trust in you throughout the department. When you give a difficult employee specific feedback, also set consequences: “If I don’t see you meeting these goals by [date], here’s what will happen [you’ll be let go, you won’t be eligible for a promotion, etc.].” Then, stick to those consequences consistently.
  4. Keep a record. Any time you deal with a difficult employee, write down the key points of the conflict or interaction along with the time and date. Documentation allows you to identify patterns. It also provides a “reality check” against any feelings you may have that you are being “too hard” on the employee or that others are “overstating” the difficulties. And it provides essential evidence if you find you have no choice but to let the employee go.

At Marquee Staffing, our experienced recruiters can help you find staff who offer outstanding skill sets and a good cultural “fit” for your workplace, increasing productivity and positivity on the job. Contact us today to learn more.

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