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10 Ways to Deal with Difficult Employees

Business Training Media - Copyright 2023

For most leaders and managers, dealing with a difficult employee is something that is, frankly, difficult. But, it doesnít have to be that way.

The reason why so many managers struggle in this area of business is that they simply donít take measures to mitigate or analyze a situation, then apply an effective solution. Itís natural to want an employee to follow your instructions to the letter Ė to just do what you say Ė and leave it at that. Unfortunately, it doesnít always work out like that. Additional degrees of actions are needed by you and, to make matters more complicated (but not impossible), they usually differ depending on employee personality and/or scenario.

Here are 10 strategies and tactics for dealing with difficult employees:

1.) The Independent - This approach is based on a personality assessment, which you must make as a leader (all of your strategies should be like this). Some people have a high level of skill and a high level of motivation. I call this person the Independent. If you are having difficulty with them, it could be because you are working too closely with them, looming over their shoulder, and dictating every twist and turn. Or, someone else is. This person needs room to breathe and lots of it! Point them in the right direction, and then turn them loose. You will be surprised to find the difficulty evaporates and the results flow in.

2.) The Hand-Holder - This is the person who has the low skill and low motivation (hopefully, a lot of potential too, or you should re-evaluate why this person is there). This employee will enter a realm of difficulty if he/she is not watched closely with someone peering over the shoulder, and given specific step-by-step instructions. This is the exact opposite of the Independent. If there is difficulty with this individual, itís because they are not receiving enough direct and constant guidance.

3.) The Sloth - This is the person who has a high level of skill but lacks the motivation to get the job done, typically because of their high skill level. There are other motivational issues that can be a factor, but this one is based on their assumption that hard work is not needed because they have already succeeded in so much they have done. This employee needs a friendly reminder that such a high skill level needs to continue being put to good use. And, you need to consider whether or not you are paying enough for it.

4.) High Octane - This associate is one with low skill but high motivation. Truth be told, this is one of the easiest difficulties to deal with. Skill level can easily be addressed with training. You can teach anyone to do anything, as long as they have the drive to do it, and High Octane has that drive. Barring needed specialized abilities, this is the best employee to have. If they are being difficult, itís because your business is not providing the training they need to match their motivation level.

5.) Legitimate Issue - Someone could be a low performer because they have a legitimate issue either in their professional life or even their personal life that affects their output. Management (preferably) or HR must take time to speak with this person and find out what is happening. It could be something serious, like sexual harassment or the recent death of a family member. Maybe they are having trouble paying certain bills, or experiencing a health concern. These are issues that must be dealt with by providing the necessary time off and work-life connections so that personal needs can be met. Any company willing to do this for an employee will see a tremendous difference in performance, but one must be willing to allow the time needed for it to happen.

6.) Mr. Motivator - Donít let the ďMrĒ part fool you. This could be a man or woman, and Iím talking about you and not the employee. Motivation, or lack thereof, can have a huge impact on performance, causing associates to respond negatively and be difficult in a variety of ways. This is where good leadership comes into play, by once again talking with an employee and getting to the heart of things. What was it that drew them to your business to begin with? Was it just the money? Or, was it the chance to help people? Was it the creativity? Maybe they are recently retired and wanted to be a service to the community again? Whatever the motivation might be, itís your job to find out, and then act on it. This employee is posing as a difficulty because they are not experiencing it. In this case, you must be part manager and part muse, otherwise known as a leader. Find any way possible for your employee to re-connect with the thing that truly motivates them. Put them in a project or position which can provide this.

7.) Additional Responsibility - Many people begin to transition into difficulty because they crave more responsibility but arenít getting it. If they canít be relied on or trusted to do more for a business, why should they do much of anything? Though unacceptable, this is the mindset of some people who create difficulties. Donít hoard all the responsibility. Give some of it away and let your people do the work. This not only develops a sense of ownership in what is being done, but it also creates a sense pride and accomplishment that could be missing from this particular employeeís life.

8.) Leadership - There are many associates out there who could do quite well in leadership positions, but are still held down by management above them. Naturally, this hurts a desire to do a good job and often leads (no pun intended) associates to become the dreaded difficult employee. As a leader and manager yourself, you should be able to discern whether or not someone has the capacity for more of a leadership role and/or whether they are ready to get training for such a position. Of particular note, this should apply to everyone in your company, either receiving training on how to become better leaders or being placed into leadership roles, even if only at mid-level. This increased level of responsibility in your company instills value and worth in your employee that will resonate in their performance.

9.) Water Tester - There are a few people out there who just like to test the water and see what they can get away with, having not grown out of this from their younger years. That is where disciplinary action can come into effect, whether itís performance probation or lost pay, you should have some form of policy in place that deals with the response to negative actions. What those actions are should be listed and provided to everyone in your company.

10.) The Door Ė No matter how many of these useful methodologies you apply, there will eventually be an employee that just isnít going to work out, which you will need to let go. For a truly effective business, this is a method that should be used only as a last resort, if at all possible. Employees must take responsibility for themselves and their actions, at some point. Although you should do much to help them along the way, sometimes the best option is to cut loose an employee and start over.

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