How to deal with difficult staff

It’s very important to know how to deal with difficult staff. One ‘bad apple’ at a company can have a massive impact. The actions of a disgruntled employee can greatly affect staff morale, lower productivity and ruin the customer service experience. So, how do you deal with difficult staff?

How to deal with difficult staff – 6 tips

  1. Identify the root causeIn my experience, managers can be quick to make an assessment that an employee is toxic or underperforming and “needs to go” before establishing why an individual is behaving in that way. The employee may well be going through a tough time in their life which the manager is unaware of. Sometimes it’s work related.  Consider whether the employee’s behaviour is normal. If not, try to find out if there is a hidden reason.  I always encourage clients to speak to the employee in a supportive way first and give them the opportunity to disclose any underlying problems. This approach works far better than tackling the situation in a heavy-handed way
  2. Be open to feedback – Have you considered that the behaviour of a problematic staff member may be down to you? Have you asked the individual for feedback on how you manage? You may need to probe. Ask different questions to obtain real, value adding feedback. Don’t forget to use active listening
  3. Hold regular 1-2-1s – When was the last time you had a 1-2-1 with your employee? 1-2-1s give the employee the opportunity to raise any concerns and highlight any issues. They also give managers the opportunity to be clear about future expectations
  4. Communicate concerns – During a 1-2-1, (and after you’ve identified that there are no extenuating circumstances) be clear about the areas of concern. Give specific examples. Simply saying, “your behaviour is poor” is not good enough.  It’s powerful to explain the impact their misconduct, underperformance or behaviour has on others.  Don’t be afraid to say “your behaviour has a negative impact on the morale of the team” or “as a result of your lateness, meetings haven’t been able to start on time”.  Once you have outlined your concerns – examples and the impact – give clear expectations on what you expect from the individual going forward. Do try to include them and get their agreement
  5. Monitor progress – Once you have had the difficult conversation, it’s important that you monitor the employee. Review their work, get feedback from other managers and hold regular 1-2-1s
  6. Document discussions – It is important that discussions with the employee are documented. This is useful for both parties to continually review. Also, in the event that formal action needs to be taken, evidence will be available that demonstrates efforts have been made to tackle the issue informally

How to deal with difficult staff

If the problem continues, formal action should be taken. All situations are different when it comes to problematic staff. Whatever issue you are facing, it can be resolved.  (If you require expert guidance, Blossom HR offers a free, no obligation 30 minute consultation.)

The impact of difficult staff

In America, Forbes reported on findings by Fierce Inc. that 4 out of 5 employees currently work or have worked with a potentially toxic co-worker. While a study by Randstad to ascertain why employees left their workplace found that 58% left or are considering leaving due to negativity, office politics and disrespectful behaviour. That’s a lot of disgruntled employees.

As an employer you need to retain your best staff and, when absolutely necessary, say farewell to problem staff (while being mindful of wrongful and unfair dismissal).

How to deal with difficult staff

Signs of a difficult employee

It’s obviously relatively easy to spot (or hear) the employee who is openly criticising management, constantly making negative comments and failing to take responsibility for their actions. Sometimes however, their negative behaviour can be more subtle. If you are regularly communicating with your team in an open and honest manner, other staff members will be well aware of the problem staff and will probably be happy to point them out.

How to deal with difficult staff – Expert help

During many years in HR, the task of helping to deal with difficult staff is one of the most common issues I have faced. I have seen relationships break down to such a degree that a senior manager could no longer bear to be in the same room as a problematic member of his team. No sensible employer wishes matters to get to that stage.

Please contact us for further help and support and take advantage of our free, 30 minute consultation service.

Other guides include;

A guide to suspending an employee

Disciplinary procedures in the workplace

How to conduct investigations at work

How to deal with absenteeism

Preventing age discrimination at work

Advice on flexible working – Rules & Regulations