Managing a difficult employee


When your team working well together it can be an exciting and growth-filled time for any small business or company. But what happens when there is one staff member, or possibly even someone new to the group, who becomes a difficult employee? A difficult co-worker or supervisor can take a smooth-running operation and turn it into one which is less cohesive and less productive. Because of this, it is important to recognise a cantankerous work situation and correct it immediately and effectively.

What are some of the signs of an employee who is creating a difficult work environment?

In a perfect workplace, everyone does their job. But this isn’t always the case. Here are some examples of behaviours that can create a hostile work environment;

  • Lack of productivity.
  • Inability to complete important tasks.
  • Poor work attitude.
  • Overstepping management.
  • Overly critical of others and their work product.
  • Inconsistent attendance at work.

When one or more employees are actively engaged in these types of behaviours other staff members can become angry and resentful. This dynamic can cause morale to plummet and creates a breeding ground for inappropriate office conversations between employees.

What is the first action a manager should take if they notice a hostile environment taking shape?

It is imperative that the manager or the supervisor of the difficult employee take immediate action to stem the behaviours and/or attitude that is harming the workplace environment. Each action taken to address and cure the growing discontent should involve an HR person or the company owner. In addition, all steps being taken with a difficult employee should be carefully documented.

To start, a manager or the owner of the business should consider doing the following;

  • Schedule a meeting with the employee who appears to be at the center of the conflict(s).
  • The meeting should take place in a confidential space.
  • A second person from human resources or management should be present.
  • The concerns should be framed in a way which are not personal and focus only on the actual work problem at hand.
  • Give honest but careful feedback pertaining to how the employee’s behavior is affecting the balance of the staff.
  • Always inquire if there is something happening that has caused the employee additional stress that might be contributing to the situation.
  • Listen attentively to the perspective of the employee you are addressing.
  • Consider various options to reduce the factors that are influencing the situation.
  • Document the options that you and the employee are going to pursue to alleviate the issue.
  • Set a time to revisit the issue to review the progress of the situation.
  • Document the entirety of the meeting, including if a warning or ultimatum was discussed.

During this process and/or any follow-up processes, it is important that all participants remain professional in their conversations and actions. Even if the employee has difficulty handling their response and their emotions, it is extremely necessary for the manager and/or the business owner to remain calm and rational.

While it may be tempting to return to the majority of the staff with details regarding the happenings in the meeting, it is best to keep any information to the balance of the staff very general. In this way, the staff will know that the situation has been addressed, but will also allow for the confidential nature of addressing a single staff member to remain intact. By managing the situation with professionalism and concern for all involved, you will show your staff that difficult situations can be raised with positive conclusions that do not jeopardise or embarrass anyone involved.