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Dealing with Difficult Employees: 5 Step Plan


As a business owner, manager or HR leader, you need to be an expert at dealing with difficult employees.

A difficult employee is not just a problem between one employee and another. If one person makes life difficult for the company, discontent can fester and become a major distraction. The air of dissent affects everyone and can cause a dramatic decrease in productivity and the departure of other employees.

If handled correctly, you have the power to diffuse the situation and return the team to productivity.

Unfortunately, dealing with difficult employees is an unavoidable part of the job, and it’s best to address the matter sooner rather than later.

Here’s a five-step plan that can help you diplomatically and effectively resolve these situations.

  • Don’t expect the problem to resolve itself. Ignoring it will only worsen the situation. While few people enjoy confrontation, you can’t allow an employee to wreak havoc on your workplace.
  • Their bad attitude and actions can hurt the morale and culture of your organization. A healthy, productive culture is the key to keeping employees engaged and excited about their work.
  • If you’re perceived as ignoring a problem employee, others will take note. Some of your top employees, especially if they are taking on extra work to avoid interacting with that difficult employee, could leave.


How you interact with the employee in question is critical to your success.

  • In your meeting, create a professional and comfortable environment where the employee feels welcome to share what they are experiencing.
  • Don’t go in making negative comments or accusations. The last thing you want to do in a difficult conversation is berate them with their wrongdoings and demand that they stop.
  • Your goal is a relaxed, free-flowing discussion. Demonstrate that you care but you’re also there to meet the goals of the organization.

Remember: it is a business conversation.


Don’t jump to conclusions. Have a seek-to-understand conversation. When you open a dialogue with the person, find out if they’re aware of their behavior and its impact on the team.

  • If not, tactfully offer specific examples illustrating why you found this meeting necessary. Succinctly and factually describe their behavior and the impact it has on the team.
  • There may be issues they have been reluctant to discuss. Determine if there may be external, personal factors influencing their actions. The employee’s personal life may be in turmoil, and they may not realize that it’s apparent at work.
  • If an employee needs assistance to get their personal life in order, provide them with any resources your company may have, such as an employee assistance program. However, don’t assume someone has an issue outside of work that’s contributing to their behavior. In that case, you may be cutting them slack when you shouldn’t be.
  • Instead, uncover the root cause of the individual’s actions and work to address the issues. Once you get down to the basic problems and what may be causing them, then you can work to resolve those issues.


Once you determine the problem, then the appropriate tools and resources can be brought to bear.

  • First, ask them to articulate what support they need to improve their behavior.
  • Remind the employee that a part of their job performance is measured by how well they contribute to the organization’s success. Any suggestions for improvement should be objective, measurable, realistic and helpful.
  • Typical solutions can include an employee assistance program, various training, executive coaching and other tools that might help the employee in areas where there may be gaps.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Tailor your approach to the needs of that employee that allows them the best chance for successfully reintegrating with the team.


At this point, you’ve had the tough conversation, uncovered the underlying issues and implemented a tailored plan. Now you must step back and monitor the individual’s progress.

  • Establish measurable goals and time frame for completing them. How frequently you check on their progress should also be tailored to the process. The key is that all parties set and agree upon a concrete timeline.
  • If the undesirable behavior continues, consider disciplinary action. If human resources isn’t already involved, now would be the time to loop them in.

These are last-resort measures. The goal is for the employee in question to work through the problem to the satisfaction of all parties.



Source by: Amanda Novakovic – Insperity.com

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