How to handle difficult employees

For businesses, especially small businesses, keeping a good staff team is necessary for a business to succeed and save money from regularly hiring new employees. However, there are some employees who can be difficult. If that’s the case, there are a few ways to handle a difficult employee calmly and professionally.

What is a difficult employee?

In any relationship, professional or personal, there are people who are known as “toxic”. Simply put, they bring negativity into the relationship that can cause irreparable damage.
Some examples of a toxic employee are one who comes to work intoxicated, ignoring safety rules, or those who are verbally or physically bringing harm to other employees or even customers.

How to tell if an employee is difficult

A simple way to identify a difficult employee is to watch how all of the employees interact with each other and the customers. Overly toxic employees are easy to spot, being tardy or calling off frequently, mistreating other, and other obvious behavior, but many go unnoticed for several reasons.
If you think there is a difficult employee you or other employees are working with, get feedback from everyone, but do not go on a witch hunt. Don’t ask about specific people. Employees will not appreciate being talked about behind their back, whether they are difficult or not.

How things can be improved?

Once you have found confirmed if an employee is difficult, the next step is very important in determining if it is time to let them go or not. Talk to them.
Do not just tell them what they are doing wrong. Many difficult employees may be going through some difficulties in their life that are affecting them like medical, financial, or familial reasons.
Many times, just being an ear for them when they are going through times like that is all it takes for the employee to see that you respect them. Otherwise, they may become defensive and it may lower their resolve and motivation even more.

Come to an understanding and an agreement

Then comes the next step to turning a difficult employee into a positive one. Now that you’ve both expressed your feelings, it’s time for you to talk about and come to an understanding about these things:

  • What standards aren’t being met
  • How the employee’s behavior will change
  • What they will do differently
  • What results show positive change

Sometimes, it can be good to lighten the employees work-load, even if it is only by a task or two a day, while they get back into their old workload. It’s important to confirm a period when they, the employee, are being evaluated by the aspect that made them difficult.

Accept it might be the end

It may be the time to consider letting the employee go. You may not want to consider it because of many reasons, being short-handed, the employee is valuable to the company, or other similar cases.
However, keeping a difficult employee can do more harm than good. Other employees can become jealous or angry, the employee and others may not respect you for taking little to no action, and you may even lose customers.
The first moment it is time to consider action is if the employee did not respond appropriately to the conversation. Maybe they denied there was a problem, put the blame on another employee, or even said the problem lies with you, the manager/owner. All of these are negative results that show that the employee has no intention of improving their performance.
Another moment to consider letting them go is if an evaluation period was set after the discussion and they showed little to no improvement or they clearly didn’t try to improve.
When these happen, it’s time to let the employee know, respectfully, that they are no longer a fit for the company. It may even be what they want. Some people who want to leave a company don’t have the resolve to resign and actually want to be let go instead. From here, you both grow as professionals.