How to Navigate Handling a Difficult Employee

Everyone has a bad day now and then. But if one of your employees consistently demonstrates poor performance or a negative attitude or behaviors, it may be time to take action. Difficult team members can lead to a toxic environment for everyone with whom they associate. If left unaddressed, problems around difficult employees may lead to higher staff turnover, lower productivity, and poor customer relations.

Needless to say, it’s best to address these issues at the right time: not jumping in at the very first sign of a problem, but keeping it on your radar screen as soon as it becomes apparent – and then intervening at the right point, before things mushroom out of control.

Consider these steps:

  1. Identify the root cause.

When you learn about an issue with an employee, be sure to thoroughly and objectively investigate the claim. Don’t assume that what you’ve heard – or even what you may have initially witnessed – is an accurate picture of the full story. Talk to the person involved and get their perspective, as well as talking to other managers.

  1. Address behavior, not people.

As you deal with a difficult employee, it’s critical to focus on specific behavior, not on personal factors. Your role is to listen, provide support, and look for resolutions, not to judge. Start by bringing the problem to an employee’s attention in a non-confrontational way. Assume good intentions if at all possible. Remember: not every difficult employee intends to be that way.

  1. Listen actively, then get and give feedback.

Use active listening to be sure you understand what an employee is saying. They may only need a sounding board – or they may need much more. The right two-way feedback – a key aspect of active listening –  will help you determine which path to take.

  1. Provide clear direction.

Before you can implement an action plan, you need to convey the information necessary for a person to improve. Be sure you achieve this as well, through your active listening approach.

  1. Document expectations and consequences.

Now that you have that plan and it’s been clearly communicated to your employee, be sure to document all expectations going forward, as well as the consequences of failing to make necessary changes. Everyone involved will take the matter more seriously and, if despite all your efforts things continue to deteriorate, you’ll have the written records you need to proceed.

  1. Know when it’s time to let go.

It’s a last resort, but if employee negativity continues, you may need to take disciplinary steps, up to and including termination. Enlist the help of your HR department, briefing them on the situation and involving them in meetings and other disciplinary steps as needed and dictated by company policy.

Helping employers build, maintain and support their industry-leading workforces is what we do best at PrideStaff Modesto. Contact us today for additional support on managing difficult employees or any aspects of your talent acquisition and management strategies.