How To Manage Difficult Employees

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Every organization is made up of different kinds of employees with different backgrounds, cultures, values, and personalities. It’s obvious that in this diversity some employees prove to be ideal employees and some tend to be difficult, causing hindrances to the organization’s work and processes. The issue is not the diversity itself, but how to manage difficult employees and these differences with difficult employees in the workplace.

Some might suggest that the best way to deal with difficult people is not to hire them in the first place, or to get rid of them if they are in the organization.  

This might sound reasonable, but it’s actually counterproductive as the majority of the time employees go through a difficult phase, and helping them in this phase helps both employee and organization.  

Let’s first understand who these difficult employees are, how we can detect them in our organization and how to deal difficult employees in the organization.

Types of Difficult Employees in The Workplace: 

  • The hissers: 

These employees tend to show the behavior of provoking and getting into conflict with others. 

They are one of the most difficult employees because they spread negativity and affect other employees’ work and mental health as well.

The most effective ways to manage hissers is to use sentitive training or T groups. 

It is a group training that helps employees to understand their own biases and prejudices against their coworkers and how they can work on them.

It can be done with a group of employees sitting together and sharing their experiences and providing feedback to others, and how they want others to be more sensitive about their specific issues.

The role of mediator is crucial in this process as they direct and regulate harmony within discussions. 

  • Resisting employees: 

These employees are resistant to any new changes in the organization. 

Managers can actually give them the role of devil’s advocate to find the scope of improvement in the policies. It should also be considered that these employees are not to be moved to a leader’s position until they learn how to encourage positive change in the workplace.

  • The ghost:  

Ghosts are those employees who either take too many unreasonable leaves or find excuses to not work as par with others in team projects. 

This might be because they want to leave the organization or may not be invested in the work. Therefore, managers can have an honest discussion with the employee about their fit with their role, find reasons for them to engage in work, or let them go as needed. 

  • The lone ranger: 

The lone ranger is often considered talented, but their downfall is that they work alone and try to minimize their interaction with others.

Managing these employees can get tricky, but to do it  managers first need to understand that they need to give appropriate freedom to these employees to help them perform at their best.

By providing regular feedback and discussions with the team, they can try to improve communication and workflow with the lone rangers, and perhaps help them incorporate into the team better.

4-step Process To Supervise Difficult Employees

Research from SHRM (Society for Human Resource and Management) asked a large pool of HR professionals to share their experiences on how to manage difficult employees.

They wanted to assess if different organizations and professionals use what kind of techniques and how effective are those techniques for the organization.

They found that there are some common elements that are proven to be effective in a large number of organizations while dealing with these employees. 

And they can be utilized as the following four step process: 

  1. Prepare yourself by taking points: 

The first step to supervise difficult employees is to prepare yourself with definite examples of what behaviors make them difficult employees. What’s important here is to distinguish the facts from the feelings of the manager themselves.

Managers can also provide enough time for the difficult employee to prepare and set their expectations for this conversation . 

  • Pro tip: Explaining the possible consequences for the continuation of difficult behavior can help communicate the seriousness of the situation and management expectations to the employee.

  1. Dig deeper: 

The next step is to dig deeper by having conversations with the employee in question.

The manager can ask the following questions: 

  • How are you doing at work, at home, and in your personal life?
  • What do you think about your recent work and interaction with others at your workplace?
  • Are you struggling with anything at work or personal life? 
  • How can I help you? 

Remember to not include questions that accus or pass judgment towards the employee.

  1. Find solutions together: 

With the information collected in the previous step, the manager can now come up with possible solutions for and with the employee. 

To do this, managers can give a time period to employees to come up with possible solutions themselves while they too formulate some for the employee.

Then the pool of solutions can be discussed together to finally choose the actionable solution that the employee can commit to.

One creative way to find a solution could be matching the strengths of the employees with specific organization roles that intrinsically motivate them.  

  1. Track their progress: 

The most important part of having this process is to follow up on the progress of the employee to see how effective the approach was. 

Depending on how effectively or ineffectively employees work on themselves, managers can decide what to do next.

Documenting the process at every step also helps to give credibility to your decision. A few things that should be documented are peer reviews, formal complaints, and performance evaluations.

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Managing toxic and difficult employees can get tough and often takes years of expertise to do it.  However, it is possible for managers to manage these employees if they focus on the root causes of the difficult employee and provide their supervision to help these employees.

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