How to Deal With Difficult Employees

How to Deal With Difficult Employees

Your guide to tackling problematic workplace behaviors that hinder productivity.

At some point in your professional career, you either have already encountered or will eventually encounter a difficult employee. An employee who doesn’t get the tasks done on time, doesn’t get along with other employees or just isn’t behaving professionally. Most leaders or managers end up spending a lot of time and emotional energy thinking about how to deal with such employees. 

If you are struggling to deal with difficult people at work, or are taking up a new managerial position and want to be prepared in advance, read on! Here is a rundown of the kinds of difficult employee behaviors you might come across and how to manage them effectively: 

Types of difficult employee behaviors 

Poor performance

It is common for people’s work performance to change as they spend time in an office. On some days, an employee might get a lot done, while on other days, due to sheer exhaustion or personal issues, they might not be able to deliver the required amount of work. While such changes are expected on a day-to-day basis, if an employee continually underperforms, it will force others to pick up the slack and bring down the overall productivity of the team. 

Being rude or disrespectful

There is a certain sense of professionalism that needs to be maintained at the workplace. Talking in a harsh tone, shouting, throwing things when displeased or making demeaning statements about co-workers is completely unacceptable and can adversely affect the overall atmosphere of the workplace. 

Evading responsibility

An employee who repeatedly fails to take responsibility for their actions and instead blames others for any negative outcomes can be really hard to work with. Evading responsibility can make said employee harder to trust. It can also lead to friction between the employee and the co-workers they threw under the bus to save themselves. 

Being unresponsive to training

Naturally, it takes time to pick up on how things are done at a new workplace. However, if even after repeated training, the employee is unable or unwilling to change and adapt to the new work environment, it can become a major hindrance to the effective functioning of the organization. 

How to confront difficult employees 


When you come across a difficult employee, the first thing you should do is to try and understand why they are behaving the way they do. Your best shot at improving the situation is to understand them. An employee might start behaving differently if they feel heard and acknowledged. Being attentive instead of dismissing an employee as problematic can help you discover and solve legitimate workplace problems. 

Don’t make it personal

When you confront an employee about their problematic behavior, you must make sure that your critique is limited to their behavior and does not become a personal attack. Making the issue personal can lead to conflict and is unlikely to resolve the situation. Your goal is to have a relaxed, depersonalized conversation where you don’t go on and on about wrongdoings or make accusations. Instead, just explain calmly why their behavior is a problem and how it hinders the goals of the organization. 

Be consistent

Make sure you treat all employees the same. It would be unfair to excuse the tardiness or sloppy work of some employees while you call out others for it. If you unfailingly stick to company policy, you will find employees actively trying to meet the standards of the workplace. 

Provide feedback

For an employee to learn about the problematic behavior they might be displaying, you need to provide them with regular feedback. Sometimes, people aren’t aware of how their behavior impacts others; start by bringing attention to the impact of their actions. It is important that you don’t assume that an employee would simply know how to act, but you set clear expectations of what are required of them. Also, make sure you observe how they take your feedback. This can be done by talking to their co-workers and evaluating the quality of the work they put out. 

Documenting bad behavior

Finally, keeping a clear record of poor performance or problematic behaviors is the most important step to effective employee management. This can help you back up your claims when you approach the employee to talk about their behavior. It can also protect the company from any liability in case the employee sues the company for wrongful termination when you decide to let go of them

Make sure that employees are well aware of the consequences of continuous problematic behavior. While no one wants to fire an employee that they have carefully selected, sometimes it is important to accept that, no matter how hard you might try as a leader, there is no other option in some cases. Following these tips will make sure that no matter how the situation turns out, you know that you tried your very best.

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Header image courtesy of Freepik


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