Five types of difficult employee (and how to manage them)

It’s an unfortunate fact that your colleagues won’t always be easy to get along with…

The problem is, if that member of staff is someone you manage, not dealing with the situation effectively could have massive repercussions when it comes to workplace morale – not to mention seriously harm your working relationship with your staff.

To help you decide the best way to get address the situation, here are five types of difficult employee, and what you can do to manage them:


The Lazy One

Who they are: The lazy employee comes in many forms, but they always have one thing in common: they’re not pulling their weight. Not to be confused with the under-performing employee. It’s not so much that they’re struggling, but more that they just don’t really care. Lazy by design.

How to spot them: Their favoured habitat is basically anywhere other than their desk. Can often be seen chatting to numerous people around the office, scrolling through Instagram, making yet another round of coffees in the kitchen or just generally disappearing for hours on end.

What to do: Because lazy employees are usually adept at covering up their lack of productivity, you may find it tricky to catch them in action – but don’t fall for their excuses. Remain firm and redirect the lazy employee to appropriate tasks, and make sure you regularly check in on their progress. Once they know their shirking has been spotted, they’re usually much more inclined to pull their weight.


The Overly Ambitious One

Who they are: Ok, so there’s nothing wrong with showing a little ambition. However, it does begin to become a problem when people blur the lines between determination and just trying to outdo everyone around them. They’re the employees who will try to undermine your authority by cross-examining you, questioning your instructions and, sometimes, by blatantly going their own way instead of yours. Let’s face it, nobody likes a try hard.

How to spot them: Often seen holding court, advising and micro-managing their colleagues, these employees tend to need constant input and reassurance so that they feel valued. If they begin feeling like they’re underappreciated, can have a habit of inventing things for themselves to ‘be in charge of’. Think ‘Floor Champion’ or ‘Officer in Charge of Staples’, or any other title which gives them license to start bossing other people around.

What to do: These employees may be irritating but they can be kept in check. It’s all about delegation. By regularly ensuring they have enough work to do, they feel more appreciated and less likely to show off at every opportunity. So give them their dues and let them work hard. It’s all they ever really want.


The Dramatic One

Who they are:  AKA ‘the Dalai Drama’. As the title suggests, these are the employees who don’t feel their day has been a success unless there have been a few tears, a little bit of shouting and a betrayal or two. If no real drama is available, they’ll either get on board someone else’s or do their best to invent some.

How to spot them: The first person on the scene if there’s any hint of a situation going south. May also be seen pacing angrily up and down the room, or trotting out one of their own self-created catchphrases (e.g. ‘Why am I doing ALL the work’, ‘Have you heard what happened?’, and other terrible attempts at making them the centre of attention).

What to do: The best approach in dealing with these employees is to remain short and sharp. Remind them that the workplace is no place for gossip, or unnecessary drama, and ask them to keep it as professional as possible moving forward. Just make sure that there isn’t an underlying issue before you talk to them. The constant need for drama can sometimes be used to cover something bigger.


The ‘Hilarious’ One

Who they are: The perennial class clown in school, their main aim in life is to get as many laughs as possible. Think of them as a frustrated stand-up comedian. Always up for a laugh and willing to put themselves on the line for the sake of ‘banter’. ROFL. LOL. Etc.

How to spot them: They’re the one in the silly hat. Literally. Outfits may also contain t shirts with slogans on them, or other equally cool pop-culture references. May also sometimes be seen hanging around the watercooler, trying out their latest material. Literal or metaphorical.

What to do: In reality, they’re usually the last bothersome of all bothersome employees. Well-meaning and cheerful, they just want everyone to be happy. But if their shenanigans are causing too many disruptions, it’s time to get things in check. Instead of singling them out, sit down with the whole team to talk about the importance of maintaining focus. You don’t have to be a killjoy; but you do have to place the emphasis back on productivity.


The Cynical One

Who they are: This is the employee who never cracks a smile. Not even when the day’s over and it’s time to head home. They’re the person who walks in and out of the office with the weight of the world visibly resting on their shoulders. Just watching them is likely to put you in a bad mood.

How to spot them: They’re the one person in the office who doesn’t want to come for an after work drink or team lunch. Unlikely to contribute to office chat, unless it’s purely to say something negative. Other employees have given up trying to include them in things. Almost as if their attitude is contagious, AKA the Bad Mood Domino Effect (definitely a real thing).

What to do: Nobody likes seeing someone unhappy. And cynics may not be simply bad tempered but could potentially be unhappy, stressed over personal troubles or struggling with something else which makes it hard for them to work. The best way to deal with employees like this is to offer them support. Whether it’s an extra pat on the back now and then or a little time in the office with you for a chat, is up to you and your instincts. But never, ever write them off.


When all else fails…

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, difficult employees become too much to cope with.

If that’s the case, a tough decision about their future might need to be made before it’s too late. It might be that they’re not the right fit for the business, and asking them to move on will benefit both parties. It might just be that they need to be managed a bit more proactively, and they can improve their approach.

But make sure you think things through carefully before making any drastic decisions. They might be difficult to work with, but they could still be good employees. You just need to help them find the right balance moving forward.


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