Managing People:
Dealing with Difficult Employees

Dealing with difficult employees is something that most business owners encounter at some point. In an ideal world difficult employees would be screened out during the recruitment process but in reality, everyone makes hiring mistakes.

"The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you've made a hiring mistake." Jim Collins

If you consider the time and energy that is wasted on problem employees compared to those who can pretty much manage themselves and don't cause difficulties, you'll know that they are not good for business.

They absorb too much of your attention, they distract your teams focus, energy and productivity and they are a drain on your business.

One of the critical success factors of a successful business is having the right people in the right roles so they can excel.

If someone is not working out, consider first of all whether you've got them in the right role and if not, whether you can move them into something more suitable.

If not, it may be time to acknowledge that you've made a mistake and let them go.

If you have made a hiring mistake it is better for the business to move them on sooner rather than later. As that person starts to make a contribution (especially if they're bringing in revenue) it will get harder to fire them.

Nipping it in the bud

Business coaches talk about the concept of tackling problems as they arise before they escalate into much bigger problems that could damage the business.

This is an important personal strategy to adopt with managing employees.

So, for example, if your new employee turns up late for work one day, immediately remind them that they are expected to be at work on time. Don't turn a blind eye because its the first time it's happened because you're effectively giving people permission to push your boundaries.

Sometimes difficult employees have simply been allowed to get away with their behavior for too long.

Whatever the situation, as soon as you become aware that there could be an issue, take steps to deal with it. And, if members of your team are making complaints about this employee, take that as an even bigger sign that you need to do something about it.

Circle of blame

When you're confronted with a difficult employee it's also a good idea to reflect on how you might have contributed to the problem.

Sometimes there is a relationship dynamic going when where you blame the employee and they're blaming you.

For example, an overly controlling boss might provoke an employee into withholding information from them, a critical boss might provoke them into hiding mistakes and a very hands-off boss might provoke disrespect.

Of course, this all depend on individual personalities but it is worth reflecting on your own role, what you could have done differently and what you need to learn. 

If you don't do this there is a good chance that you'll repeat the same pattern with another new employee.

Business Coaching Questions:

  • How might you be contributing towards the problems you have with dealing with difficult employees?
  • What ‘judgments’ do you make about them?
  • How do you behave towards them and what would that feel like to them?

Return from dealing with difficult employees to management styles

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