Types of Difficult Employees

by Ryan

by .

Types of Difficult EmployeesManaging Difficult Employees, Problems and Solutions

What do you do what you’ve hired someone and they begin to manifest problems? How do you deal with these workers when you don’t want to go through the pain and expense of firing them and hiring someone else? Sometimes they are quite good at their jobs, but they have personality issues that clash with the rest of your employees and even you. What are some solutions for dealing with difficult employees? Here are four types of difficult employees and what to do about them.

The Gossip

You’ve heard it many times, the water-cooler talk, the “you didn’t hear it from me,” caveat. Employees who engage in occasional gossip aren’t usually a big problem in the workplace, but that one employee who lives to gab about other people’s personal lives can become cancerous. Even though his co-workers might find it exciting to engage in this gossip, eventually the office will become a web of resentment and morale will plummet.

If you find yourself dealing with a workplace gossip, find a way to address the problem in general. Talk about it in a meeting, not focusing on any one person. After, all, it takes two. Chances are, this person is engaging in gossip is encouraged by the willingness of others to listen to it.

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But, if a general warning doesn’t work and complaints are building, it’s time to deal with the problem head on. Invite the person into a quiet and private space and talk about the issue. Try not to bring up specific examples, because there will likely be repercussions on the employees who reported the incidents, and that makes for a very unhappy environment.

Come up with an action plan. Tell him that the workplace is a professional space where personal lives are discussed only sparingly. After all, each hour is a paid hour, and there is work to be done. Warn the employee about the consequences of continuing on with the behavior.

If this doesn’t work, it might be time to reassign the employee to an environment where there are fewer people to interact with. If this isn’t possible, termination is your only option. Try to avoid this, however, because everyone engages occasionally in office gossip. It’s usually a harmless offense, and making it appear that someone could lose their job over it could create a culture of fear, which is never good.

The Malcontent

No matter what you do, you can’t make this person happy. And she isn’t shy about it either. In every meeting and almost every interaction, complaining and whining ensues. Even though she is getting the job done, the bad attitude is causing serious problems in the workplace, and morale is drooping. Here’s how to handle employees with bad attitudes.

Consider whether this employee has always had a problem with being a malcontent. If it’s a recent development, maybe she is having personal problems, such as illness in the family or marital problems. This should be confronted with compassion. Offer the employee some time off, assure her that her work will be covered. Refer her to the company health care plan, if it covers counseling. Make sure she feels heard and empathized with. Also, wait it out. It’s likely that, once the storm has passed, the good employee will return with her good attitude intact.

If personal problems are not the issue, and it appears that the employee’s personality is to blame, this isn’t an easy fix. Start documenting the incidents that you see or are reported to you. Managers often call these “cuff notes,” meaning that observations are recorded throughout the workday and compiled. These employees can be litigious, so make sure you are well-covered with meticulous record-keeping. You don’t need to share this practice with the employee.

Bring the employee in and put together a corrective action plan. This is signed by both parties and filed. It goes over the problem and the proposed solution, combined with your comments and the comments of the employee. Check in periodically and make sure the plan is being followed. Sometimes this is once a week, sometimes it’s ok to wait six months, depending on the severity of the problem.

The Insubordinate

This type of employee is often passive aggressive. He might agree to certain tasks, but doesn’t follow through with them. He may grumble about his work, but to your face he is friendly and happy to comply. He will find a way to get out of working, whether it’s showing up late or claiming that he forgot.

This can lead to several problems. First, the rest of your employees will have to pick up the slack, something that will likely lead to frustration and reduced productivity. Second, tasks will slip through the cracks unnoticed, and you will only realize that they weren’t done when it’s too late and something goes wrong. For instance, if you tell him to follow up with an important client who is somewhat disgruntled, you won’t know that it didn’t happen until that client fires you.

This problem needs to be handled early on, so the employee knows that this behavior won’t be tolerated. Let him know that you expect him to complete the tasks that he agrees to do. Also make sure he knows that, if he is uncomfortable with a task or doesn’t know how to complete it, your door is open to him at all times. He should be vocal about his concerns in a productive way so that the work gets done.

If he is being managed by someone else, make sure the manager is also open to questions and concerns. It’s possible that this employee doesn’t feel comfortable reporting to this manager, making it difficult for him to bring up problems, therefore leaving him no choice but to dodge the work.

The Know-it-All

While other problem employees are looking for ways to get out of work, you might find that the know-it-all is overly eager to work, and can take over other people’s jobs if you let her. She might speak up often in meetings, not giving anyone else the chance to speak. She might also degrade others, making them feel like she knows more than they do.

The problem with this employee is that it’s unlikely that she actually does know everything. She might take on tasks that she isn’t qualified to take on, with the promise that it will be done expertly. While the real experts in your workplace are being bulldozed by her, tasks are getting done partially and not well. Also, it makes others feel that their input is not valuable, and eventually the more introverted people in the office will stop contributing.

Make a concerted effort to call equal attention in meetings and other interactions to all your employees. Even if you have to cut her off mid-sentence, ask someone else what they think about the subject on the table. Give her an appropriate amount of time to speak, but don’t allow her to hijack the whole conversation. You are the boss, assert your authority in this case so that everyone is heard.

Compliment others on their work, make sure they know they are valued. The know-it-all shouldn’t be ignored, but she likely wouldn’t allow that to happen anyway. Meanwhile, those who are more comfortable with being ignored are slipping willingly into the background. Call on them more, tell them you appreciate their contribution. Often this simple concerted effort will even out the dynamic in the workplace.

One or more of these employee types are likely to be found in your workplace today. Take on the problem with professionalism and a level head. Never allow your emotions to make your decisions for you in these cases. You should show all your employees that you will deal with problems fairly and calmly. This will lead to a more comfortable and happier company culture.


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