Dealing With Difficult Employees

By Martin Gilliard

When dealing with difficult employees it’s your job to dig deep and find out what the problem really is. What is at the heart of the problem? As a manager you need to understand it sympathetically and empathetically. The trick is to not jump to conclusions.

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Inexperienced Managers Blame The Employee

Unfortunately with many less experienced managers jumping to conclusions is exactly what they do. They blame the person. For example they might say “Jack just doesn’t get it.” Or, “That’s just the way Liz is.”

dealing with difficult employees

(Photo Credit: Steffen Boelaars)

Experienced Managers Discover

Experienced managers wouldn’t settle for this. As the leader of the team – the team is your responsibility. How they behave, how they work, what they work on is all down to you. As a leader you are the most influential person within the team.

So as your team’s leader you need to dig deep. Find out exactly why your particular team member is not performing to the levels of the rest of the team. You should already have one to one discussions with each of your team members on a weekly basis. Use this time to do some probing with some carefully thought out questions.

Does the employee have the appropriate capabilities? Do they need further training? Are they lacking confidence? Are they fearful of someone or some process? Does anything that they do conflict with their personal values? Are they behaving in a particular manner due to influence from someone else in the team or organisation such as a customer or a supplier?

I like the old saying “Try to put yourself in their shoes”. Try and think and feel how your employee does at that moment in time. To be more understanding sometimes it is also good to try and cast your mind back to some of your own past experiences. Think of times when you’ve been in a team and you or someone else has underperformed. What were the reasons behind the under-performance? How did you or the team overcome them? Have you ever been disgruntled over some piece of work that was assigned to you? How did you feel? Why were you disgruntled? As a leader you have to play the role of detective and really understand so use every piece of experience that you can to assist you with this process.

As a manager it is your responsibility to get to the root of the problem. You need to understand what is going on before you jump to any conclusions. And by understand I mean to fully understand, both empathetically and sympathetically.

Maximise Performance – Put A Plan In Place

Once you do fully understand then you need to formulate a course of action to correct the issue. Removing an employee from a team should always be a last resort and should really only be used if an individual proves to be objectionable to any plans or actions that you put forward. Often it’s simply a matter of providing appropriate training, acting as a mentor or making more resources available.

Your objective is to maximise the performance of the team in alignment with the company strategy and values. So remember, when dealing with difficult employees – understanding is key. It’s your job as a leader and manager to gain that understanding and to not jump to any rash decisions until you know all the facts.

Good luck!

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