How to handle a difficult employee

Follow our roadmap to manage this challenge that can test even the most seasoned leader.

1. Find out their strengths
It’s quite possible that the ‘toxic’ employee is actually a square peg in a round hole. Maybe the person has been put in a position that doesn’t utilise their strengths and their career goals have not been taken into consideration. So gather as much information as you can about the person. That starts by actually getting to know him/her. Then see if together you can work out a career plan that fits the employee’s strengths, benefits your team, and helps you both get to your goals.

2. Don’t trash-talk about the employee
It’s easy to get frustrated and bad-mouth an employee in front of others. But only a poor leader would do that instead of directly discussing it with the employee. Don’t let your irritation get the better of you, no matter how bad the employee’s behaviour might be. It will affect other employees’ opinions of the person and make you look unprofessional and unable to manage your team. Avoid this kind of negativity and instead focus on the points listed below.

3. Listen
This is a key component of any relationships. Once an employee has been labelled difficult it’s easy to dismiss them and turn your attention to something else. However, a good leader knows that taking the time to understand the situation is crucial if you want to improve it. Pay attention when things start going wrong with someone. Find out why the difficult label has stuck to that person. Is it because of a few people’s assumptions? Is it performance related? Or an attitude problem? Gather your information and engage with the employee. Don’t confront, but rather have a leading discussion to identify the problem, whether personal or professional. Only then will you be able to suggest a workable solution.

4. Communicate your feedback clearly
Expectations vary from leader to leader, so it’s important you clearly tell your employees what is expected of them. This includes giving clear, detailed feedback about their performance on a regular basis. Rather than complaining about them, sit them down and tell them exactly where and how they can improve. Get into specifics; tell them what they could have done differently. It can be uncomfortable at times, but a good leader knows that without clear guidance an employee can flounder.

5. Develop an action plan and set consequences
Work with the employee to put together an agreed upon solution. Once you’ve got an action plan in place, you need to ask for the employee’s commitment. Aim for incremental improvement. Schedule follow-ups so that you can discuss the progress being made. That way in case the initial solution isn’t working you can brainstorm new solution or tweak the existing one. Express your confidence in their ability to resolve the situation but also mention the consequences if things don’t improve or change. To push them to change you need to clearly state the negative impact their behaviour will have on them. It is also crucial managers document this discussion with the employee. Write down the points discussed and the action plan agreed upon. This isn’t being negative, rather you’re just being prudent and ensuring you have the documentation needed if things go south. If it does come to letting the employee go you will need a record of his/her ‘bad’ behaviour.

Photograph: Katemangostar – 

Categories:   Lifestyle, Work Buzz


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.