Tips for Dealing with a Difficult Employee

Handling a difficult employee can be challenging. It drains your energy, decreases productivity, and lowers team morale. This can lead to disengagement, high turnover, and a toxic work environment. Fortunately, the sooner you deal with the problem, the sooner your team can move forward. Knowing how to properly handle this type of employee is an important part of being an effective leader.

Use these tips to effectively handle a challenging employee.

Talk with the Employee

Meet with the employee to talk about the issue. For instance, they may not be fulfilling their responsibilities due to a lack of ability, communication, motivation, alignment, or resources. Perhaps the work no longer challenges the employee, they want to make more of an impact than they are, or they feel a lack of room for advancement. Getting to the root of the problem can help you both find a solution.

Focus on the Behavior

Emphasize the actions that need to change rather than the employee’s personal characteristics. Your goal is to correct the behavior rather than judge the employee. Point out how the specific actions make it difficult to work with them. Show you want to provide support in finding a solution. Keep in mind that the employee may not be purposely behaving in a difficult manner or aware their actions are bringing down the team.

Actively Listen

Pay close attention to what the employee tells you. They may have a conflict with a coworker or disagree with your management style. Or, the employee could be facing problems at home that impact their work performance. Create a safe space for them to share their side of the situation. Ask questions to gain information and clarify your understanding of what was said. Show empathy throughout the discussion. Work with the employee to come up with a resolution.

Develop a Plan for Improvement

Write down the specific ways you and the employee come up with to solve the problem. Include the topics discussed, information shared, and joint decisions made during your meeting. Mention the expectations, objectives, timeframe, progress evaluations, and consequences if the changes are not made.

Monitor the Progress

Pay close attention to whether the employee reaches the agreed-upon standards. You may want to request feedback from their coworkers, evaluate the quality of the work yourself, or have regular one-on-one meetings. Include written observations and reports to increase transparency when discussing your final evaluation with the employee.

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