How to: Deal with difficult staff

Hate dealing with difficult employees? As a manager, it comes with the territory…

Difficult staff not only affect you as a manager, but also the office environment, and the morale of your entire team. And whatever the reason they’ve become tough to work with, addressing the problem quickly is the first step towards solving it.

We’ve already covered types of problematic employees you could manage, but to help you figure out what to do next, here’s our advice on how to deal with difficult staff:


Find out the facts

Before you even think about approaching any difficult employees, you need to get your facts straight.

It can be all too easy to get caught up in office gossip, or act on impulses. But without knowing all the available details, you may just be jumping to all the wrong conclusions – which will only make the situation worse in the long run.

So find out the answers to some key questions. In what way is your employee being difficult? Is it an isolated incident or are they being disruptive on a regular basis? What effect are they having on your team’s morale or their levels of production?

It’s far from an exhaustive list, but you should always put together some background details before making any decisions.

Remember: facts > hearsay and hyperbole.


Start listening

Never (ever) make assumptions.

Whilst it’s important to put your point across to the team member in question, it’s also your role as a manager to listen to what they have to say.

Not only does it allow them to tell their own side of the story, but it may also bring up potential reasons behind their behaviour or inability to perform well at work.

For example, they may be having personal problems that are negatively impacting their work. Or perhaps they’re simply struggling with a specific part of their role.

Without giving them a chance to speak, you’ll never know what could really be going on.


Don’t make it personal

A little advice can go a long way in resolving poor performance in the workplace.

But be aware that even advice given with the most innocent intentions can sometimes feel like a personal attack. So, to avoid any potential confrontations or uncomfortable situations, always try to be as constructive as possible with your feedback.

Instead of generalising their behaviour, offer specific examples of where they’ve acted inappropriately or failed to meet your expectations. And make sure that any advice you offer is not personal, and applied across the board, to everyone in your team.

That way they’ll know your criticism is consistent, and strictly professional.


Make a plan

Action plans are great for helping employees get back on track.

Start by sitting down with them and coming up with an agreed list of achievable goals they need to hit. Then create bullet points on how they can meet these targets, and agree on a timescale for completion – as well as regular chances to catch up.

Tracking their progress will help demonstrate they’ve taken your feedback on board, as well as giving them some much needed focus when it comes to hitting their objectives.

It’s also a great way to regularly check in with them, be supportive, and see how they’re getting on.


Know when it’s not working out

Unfortunately, sometimes people just aren’t a good fit for your team.

If that’s the case, then it’s quite likely to be something that you’re both mutually aware of. So if you’ve tried everything else, and not seen any significant improvements, have a conversation with your employee to see if they’re really happy in their role.

It might be that they’re ready to admit that their heart really isn’t in it. Or it might be that you have to make a difficult decision in order to help the rest of the team move forward.

A change might end up being best for both parties. You just need to follow it through.


Have the courage to make a positive change

Dealing with difficult employees is undoubtedly one of the hardest things you have to do as a manager.

Unfortunately though, it comes as an inevitable part of the role. But how you address the situation can say a lot about your leadership skills, and send out a clear message to the rest of the team about what kind of manager you are.

So always try to face problems head on – don’t put off an important conversation, and definitely don’t delegate it to someone else.

Deal with difficult employees with courage and confidence, and you can quickly turn the negative into a positive. Whether it’s for that staff member’s career, or the morale of your entire team.



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