How to deal with a difficult employee 4


In a perfect world every employee would always do their best, in both job performance and attitude. Unfortunately, however, as an HR professional one of the toughest aspects of your job is dealing with “problem” employees.

There are a few key points to bear in mind when handling this thorny issue to promote the best outcomes for all parties involved.

Distinguish between substandard job performance and misconduct

These two transgressions are often thought of as one and the same thing but that is not the case. A manager will often just know that what is happening is unacceptable, and therefore that the employee must be dealt with. However, poor job performance and misconduct are separate issues and should be dealt with differently. Learn what the difference is if you don’t already.

Performance issues require steps of corrective action

If the problem is a job performance issue, the usual thing to do is implement a “three steps then you’re out” type of disciplinary action model. This could entail a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, and then a final written warning before dismissal.

Note, however, that a recent hire and a long-term employee will often be treated differently in terms of what constitutes proper notice of poor performance.

Conduct sometimes requires more immediate action

If the problem has to do with the employee’s conduct, you and the employer have more discretion with what constitutes the appropriate level of corrective action. Depending on the specific scenario with the employee in question, you may not want to stick to the three-step model mentioned above.

However, skipping a step is usually for more serious infringements like theft, embezzlement, and forgery.

Create an open environment

To prevent potential issues becoming greater issues later on, it is important that you foster a constructive environment for communication. Employees should feel that if they are struggling they can come to you and either talk about what is bothering them or even ask for help and understanding. It is also important that employees feel like they can ask “why” or query rules and regulations. You might know they are there for good reason, but it is best that employees understand the reasoning themselves as well.

Leave the drama out of it

It is imperative that you at all times remain level headed in your dealings with difficult employees. Don’t confront employees in an emotional manner, but remain cool, calm and objective. Never let issues get to you on a personal level. Not only would that be unprofessional on your side, but it can escalate the issue tremendously.

You will probably be aware of the above mentioned tips if you have taken human resource management courses or undergone similar training. However, it is still good to be reminded about a few points in this matter. Dealing with problem employees is never a fun thing to do, but if handled correctly a lot of the difficulty can be avoided.

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4 thoughts on “How to deal with a difficult employee

  • Thokozani Absalom

    Dear Chantel Harris All managers will have to deal with difficult employees during their careers. First, there will always be difficult employees. Second, it’s your job as the manager to deal with them. If you don’t deal the problem, it will only get worse.

  • Des Squire

    In m y personal opinion and from personal experience if we correctly manage performance and get employees to agree to the performance standard many of the performance problems can be done away with. Many problems exist simply from a lack of understanding of the required standard. Managers fail to establish the standards, fail to manage the performance and fail to enforce the standards. The philosophy of managers should be on of –  “how much, of what by when – but tell employees how they are doing.   

  • sharonsnell

    Chantel this article heading reminds me  of those horrid and rude strangers we encounter in our daily lives. I always give thanks that that person isn’t my boss or my subordinate. Dealing with a difficult person over long periods must be the biggest cause of workplace stress. I agree the sooner the issue is tackled the better 🙂