What are the keys to managing difficult employees?

Businesswoman talking on a cell phone

Employers may classify employees as “difficult” for a variety of reasons. Usually, it’s not your overall performance or productivity that’s the problem, although it can be. A difficult employee may frequently complain about workplace practices, supervisors or co-workers, or it may be the other team members who have issues with a particular employee. Whatever the exact behavioral disturbance, effective secrets to managing difficult employees include dealing with the situation promptly, using “I” statements instead of “you” statements, and focusing on developing a solution instead of focusing on the problem.

A completely peaceful workplace is rare, even elusive. There are likely to be behavioral difficulties that affect other workers, regardless of their level of position in the company. A common mistake many managers make is dismissing minor issues or complaints about an employee’s difficulty. These managers may believe that difficulties are a result of personality clashes between co-workers or that minor behavioral problems are likely to go away on their own. However, managing difficult employees efficiently means fixing even small problems before they can escalate into bigger problems that end up involving more workers and taking time out of the actual work process.

The manager of the difficult employee should meet with this person as soon as possible. In the meeting, the manager should use “I” statements that address the behavior rather than “you” statements that focus on blame on the employee. For example, instead of saying, “You haven’t been following company policy,” management should start with something like, “I need everyone to follow company policy.” One of the most successful secrets to managing difficult employees is to involve them in problem solving.

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For example, the manager might ask him what is the best way to ensure that all workers adhere to company policy on the specific issue. The discussion can then move on to a constructive problem-solving session. A plan to correct the behavior must then be worked out with the difficult employee.

The most important of the secrets to managing difficult employees is listening to them. If the worker starts to become defensive or indifferent, the manager can then employ an active listening strategy. This means the employer can say something like, “I really want to hear your side of this issue. Tell me what you think” to get the hard worker to start talking. It is important that the manager does not interrupt. Instead, taking notes and discussing the points with the employee in the context of the corrective plan can end the discussion on a positive and constructive level.

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