How to deal with difficult employees

Every manager has stories about that one employee who proved to be a nightmare. It’s inevitable that you will manage difficult employees; it comes with the territory.

Some managers end up being held hostage by chronically problematic employees. They want to let them go but end up tethered to them for years, expending more emotional energy than necessary. It’s time to put these issues into perspective and confront problem employees head-on.

How to deal with difficult employees

Listen actively:

When employees are difficult, it’s easy to tune them out. We don’t want to be irritated, and pretending like a problem doesn’t exist is sometimes easier than confronting it. However, great managers do the opposite of this – they actively listen, with the understanding that full knowledge of the situation gives them the tools needed to address it. They sometimes discover that an issue is not the difficult employee’s fault, or realize the individual might be more agreeable if someone simply took a minute to listen. Once you know the full scope of the problem, give the employee comprehensive feedback, even if feelings get hurt. Be professional, and never allow your personal opinions to intrude.

Document everything:

Whenever significant issues come up in the workplace, write down the important points. If the employee is the cause of the problem but you have no documentation to back it up, options are limited. Lack of documentation often occurs because we hope for the best, crossing our fingers that the incident is isolated, but managing difficult employees requires documentation in order to keep your options open. Remember, documentation is not a negative thing; it’s being prudent. If the situation is resolved, you can file the documentation away and get back to work building a winning team.

Be consistent:

Rules are rules, and if you don’t consistently enforce them, employees will not follow them. Set standards and maintain them. Your team needs to know what you expect; without consistency, structure crumbles and difficult employees will emerge. Additionally, be steadfast in setting consequences, as difficult associates will not hesitate to abuse your goodwill if they know they won’t have to pay for their bad behavior.

Use discretion:

The easiest way to sow seeds of distrust in your store is to speak ill of team members to their co-workers. You will quickly lose the respect of your associates, and your actions will reflect badly on your skills and professionalism.

Be objective and courageous:

It’s easy to fall into negativity, but neutrality and objectivity  are crucial if you are to make judicious decisions. As mentioned, you must document everything and follow all company procedures when managing a difficult employee. If the only recourse is to let them go, you will need to have all of your T’s crossed, your paperwork in place, and the courage to know you are making the right decision. Terminating an employee is one of the hardest things you must do in your role as manager, and it should not be taken lightly. If things have progressed this far, contact with your HR department to help guide you through the process.

Managing difficult employees is not easy, but it is your job. Good managers do everything possible to improve performance, but they also know how to recognize a bad employee who hurts the team. Be strong during the difficult times, and hopefully you will grow from the experience.

This is one of the reasons why thoughtful hiring is so important. Utilizing pre-employment testing, like Visuality, can help to ensure you’re making right-fit hires, hiring the right personality for the job, and your business can help you avoid dealing with nightmare employees in the future.