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managing difficult employees

9 Essential Steps for Managing Difficult Employees


Sooner or later in your management career, managing difficult employees will be necessary.


Difficult employees can come in a multitude of facets ranging from unwitting underperformance to team disrupting behavior. Either way, managing difficult employees requires you to nip the problems straight in the butt. Otherwise, you are risking demotivating the remaining team and being recognized by your own management for poor leadership.


Managing a difficult employee will mean a frank and direct conversation with the employee in question. This might feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially when you are a first-time manager. But remember, as a manager you have to act in the best interest of the company, the team, and the team’s performance.


I had to deal with this myself in my first year of being a people manager. I could feel my internal resistance to deal with the situation. Nonetheless, I knew it had to be done – sooner rather than later. I still remember the heavy silences in the conversation and the feeling of time not passing. Gladly, this intervention led to the issue not repeating and generally improved the behavior of the employee.


This blog post is all about serving you as a practical guide to managing difficult employees.

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9 Steps in Performance Managing Difficult Employees

tips for managing difficult employees


#1Have a catch-up with your HR representative first to understand what your companies policies and procedures are. They will be able to give assistance and advice, especially when it comes to the documentation required


#2Schedule dedicated time for feedback with the employee. This should occur as soon as possible after the poor behavior or performance occurs or is recognized. Schedule plenty of time to ensure that the feedback can be given without rush. It is very important that the discussion is private to allow an honest exchange. So find a space out of the reach of 3rd parties’ ears.


#3It would be best to discuss in person; however, use video chat if the discussion is remote. It is important to observe the employee’s facial expressions and body language.


#4Give feedback on the employees’ behavior, not on the employee. The goal of the feedback session is to find a solution to identified problems. Focussing the discussion on the behavior takes out the emotion and supports finding a resolution.


#5Be direct and clear. Identify the behavior, its occurrence, and the consequences on your team’s productivity. Address it without hesitance to avoid misunderstandings with the employee. An invaluable resource in doing this will be your HR department’s performance descriptors. You will create clarity on the expected employee behavior and how it is evaluated. Additionally, I would suggest looking at the descriptors together with the employee.


#6Listen to the employees’ feedback. Once you have stated your case it is important to let the employee speak. Chances are that the employee was not aware of the situation or there are specific reasons for the difficult behavior.


#7Work together with the employee to find a solution to the situation. Discuss openly with them what the consequences will be if the behavior continues. Then describe what the desired behavior looks like, and what the employee needs from you to improve. Also agree on the timeline for improvements. Don’t finish the discussion until you have reached an agreement on this.


#8Once your meeting is completed write down a short synopsis of the discussion and detail the agreed steps, note the timeline and, if applicable, the criteria for how success in this situation is evaluated. Provide a copy to the employee. You and the employee need to sign it, or if you share it through email, you need to have the employee acknowledge the receipt and the agreement in a reply.


#9Monitor the progress regularly and if the employee requires help, check in with them frequently. Once the agreed timeline has passed schedule an evaluation and discuss progress.


Some Final Thoughts

Surely this situation will be stressful, especially when you are a first-time manager. And sometimes you feel like you need to talk about the situation. This is understandable but the workplace or people who know your employee are not the right places. Bad mouthing an employee in front of others is not just unprofessional, it will cause distrust towards you.


If you are in a situation where your employee’s behavior doesn’t improve, you will need to consider letting the employee go. This will be a very uncomfortable situation; nevertheless, you cannot accept a difficult employee because it likely demotivates other members of your team. Work closely with your HR department on this to follow the right policies and procedures.

International Association of Women membership
Free work interview preparation for first time manager questions
Career with a View networking event

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