Dealing with difficult employees isn’t one size fits all, and it doesn’t always work. I remember a department manager I tried to help. She had been a hardworking, loyal employee for several years. She was good at organizing the work, meeting production schedules, and most of the time she worked well with her team as well as with other departments—most of the time. Occasionally she reacted in anger and eventually “occasionally” became one too many times. Her direct supervision, HR, and leadership development teams had worked with her, but it wasn’t enough.
Where do you begin?
The place to start is by acknowledging the problem, not ignoring it. Hoping it will “just go away” is a plan for failure. Whether the difficulty is anger management, not following procedures, or circumventing policies it starts with honest evaluation.
It’s not who’s right it’s what’s right
Before approaching the offender, determine what’s reinforcing the behavior.
- Have they been allowed to act this way?
- What’s behind it? For example, is it more prevalent when the person is under pressure?
- Do outside circumstances beyond the organizations control affect the outcome?
Before beginning the conversation look at the situation and the person with understanding and consideration.
Listen first then share the truth
Begin the conversation by asking the offender their perspective. Are they aware of their destructive behavior? Do they understand what triggers the reaction? Give clear, concise feedback, but always follow company procedures.
Offer a solution
Whether it’s developing a B-Mod (Behavioral Modification) plan, training, or accountability systems—find a way for the individual to make amends and improve their behavior. Like I said, how to deal with a difficult employee isn’t one size fits all. It may take a combination of actions to come to a solution. The important point is to offer a path, a way out.
Don’t let it get to you
That’s easier said than done. Once, I offered disparaging remarks to other managers about an employee who had disrupted a meeting. The meeting was an introduction to a company recognition initiative for employees who promoted the organization on social media. The employee was upset that only those on social media could participate. Later I chatted with the employee and reminded him of other employee initiative programs we had instituted. We had a good talk. He had always been a source of departmental ideas and insights for me and would have continued to be…but he passed away the following week. I’m thankful we talked.
It’s easy to get caught up in negative self-talk and angry accusations, but it seldom helps anyone.
Have you done everything you can?
Even though, it was time, terminating the employee upset me. I considered her a friend—still do. I asked the leadership and management team, self-included, if there was anything else we could have done? Was there something we hadn’t tried to help her? The answer was—we did our best. If there was another solution, we didn’t know it. Before you give up on any valuable employee, ask your team this. Have we done everything we could do?
The following sources may offer additional insight.
SBA–How to Deal with Difficult Employees in a Small Business
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