How to Handle Difficult Employees

handling difficult employees

Having a productive, cohesive work environment is pivotal to the success of any small business, regardless of industry. To effectively serve customers and provide the best possible service, one must ensure the hiring of employees who are team players, respectful, and committed to their roles. Without a team of ambitious individuals, it will be n+early impossible for a business to reach its full potential.
Unfortunately, the quality of a work environment can be put in jeopardy from employees’ bad habits. These habits can cost a company money, hurt reputation, and create a toxic workplace. Although this can be frustrating, there are ways to inspire staff and correct unprofessional behavior.

In this blog post, we’ll explain some of the less desirable traits or behaviors employees exhibit, and offer actionable tips for handling these situations. Hopefully, before you know it, you’ll have a staff of hardworking and courteous individuals.

What to do when an employee…

1. Is a Slacker – Unfortunately, there are some employees who will do anything to avoid work responsibilities. They’ll spend more time browsing the Internet, chatting with friends, or taking numerous breaks than doing their job. Some slackers will even leave work for their team members to do, or frequently opt out of work altogether. Whatever the case, this behavior is inexcusable.

If you have slackers on staff, this could affect productivity. In addition to damaging sales, slacker tendencies could rub off on other members of staff. If others see colleagues getting away with poor performance, they won’t be motivated to put in their best efforts.

To ensure that staff are driven, it is important there are clear standards for them to adhere to. Here are a few ways to combat lackadaisical workplace behavior:

  • Meet with unproductive employees: If you’ve noticed that an employee is consistently distracted, schedule a meeting with them to discuss their performance. List specifically what they have been doing that is not up to standard, and explain ways that they can improve. In addition, it might be beneficial to schedule frequent meetings with slackers, so that you can continue to assess their performance.When you meet with an employee who is slacking, you should ask them if there are any reasons that they haven’t been performing to standard. Perhaps they’ve had issues in their personal life, or are unfulfilled in their role. If the latter is the case, you might consider transferring them to a different department that sparks their interest.
  • Require employees to clock-in: If you’re having issues with employees taking long breaks or coming in late, implement a policy in which employees clock in at the beginning of the day, and clock out when their shift is finished. If they know that there will be a record of their attendance, they may be more likely to follow the rules.If you’re interested in this type of policy, check out services such as ADP, Buddy Punch, and IDEAblox, which all offer time tracking options.
  • Hire department managers: As a business owner, it can be challenging to oversee your entire staff. If you’re having trouble monitoring slackers, your business could benefit from having a few employees who serve as managers for each department.

2. Starts Office Drama – Workplace gossip creates a hostile work environment, and can make employees feel uncomfortable. If you’re told that an employee is starting rumors or bullying their co-workers, you need to address the issue immediately. It isn’t fair to subject other employees to this negative, damaging behavior.

To address office gossip, meet with any individuals who are spreading rumors, and point out the negative consequences of this conduct. Ask them to think before they speak, and to immediately stop telling salacious or untrue stories about their co-workers. If the employee cannot conduct themselves with integrity, then you should reassess their future at your company.

3. Loses Their Temper – It is imperative that your employees remain professional, even in frustrating situations. If an employee loses their temper this reflects badly on your business. To prevent volatile outbursts, take the following measures:

  • Encourage stress-management: If you have an employee, or numerous employees, who have issues with keeping their cool, consider offering some perks that promote wellness. This could be anything from providing a gym membership discount, to holding an in-house seminar with a professional who can provide stress-management techniques. Invest in your employees, and give them the tools to handle their stress in healthy, constructive ways.
  • Talk it out: If an employee is repeatedly losing their temper, get to the root of the problem. Are they on a team with people that they don’t get along with, causing a combative work environment? Or perhaps they have too much work on their plate, and could benefit from having some of their tasks being delegated to someone else. If you determine what the reason is for their emotions, you might be able to resolve the problem altogether.

4. Is a Distraction – Does your small business have an office clown? If so, they could be a major disruption to other employees. Typically, an office clown is more focused on garnering laughs than completing their work. Although you and your employees might occasionally chuckle at this person’s antics, such employees also serve as a distraction which you likely can’t afford.

When addressing distracting behavior you should explain to employees that their focus at work should be on their role. Although comedic relief can make a workplace more enjoyable, it is pivotal that efficiency is the top priority. Encourage this employee to save their jokes for after-hours, or the next company holiday party!

5. Is Disorganized – It is unlikely that all of your employees are going to be at the same level in terms of organizational skills. That’s okay – but not when an employee’s lack of organization affects their job function. If they frequently lose documents, have a messy workstation, or make other mistakes because they aren’t detail-oriented, you need to intervene. Address disorganized habits by…

  • Providing necessary materials – If employees don’t have the items they need to stay organized, you can’t punish them for it. Be sure to provide binders, folders, paper clips and other necessary tools that will keep employees organized.
  • Implement organizational technology – Software and platforms like Asana, Trello, and Taskworld enable managers to assign tasks to their employees, and see the progress they make on projects. You can set due dates, send reminders, and interact with employees regarding their work. If an employee struggles with project-management, this could be a great fit for them.
  • Onboarding your employees – New employees should be taught how to adhere to your business’s guidelines. Filing paperwork and managing other important documentation should be covered during training.
  • Explain the consequences – Employees might not realize how their bad habits can have a major influence on the success of your business. If an employee loses a sensitive document, such as a receipt that contains a bank account number, a customer file with sensitive information, or passwords to company accounts, your business’s future could be jeopardy. If employees understand how crucial it is to stay organized, they’ll likely become better at it.

6. Is a Downer – Have you ever been around an individual who has a negative outlook on nearly everything? They can be toxic to everyone around.

If you have an employee who is notoriously negative, this can take a toll on team morale. Whether they are complaining about company policies, shooting down other people’s ideas, or generally complaining while on the job, you must talk to them about their lack of enthusiasm. Find out if they are unhappy in their role, or if there is some other reason that they have an undesirable attitude at work. As we mentioned in previous sections, finding out the reason for bad behavior can help you determine a solution. Still, if an employee is simply not passionate about your company, or wants to be elsewhere, it might be time to talk about their future at your business.

7. Is Self-Serving – Do you have an employee who is a hard worker, but focuses solely on getting all the credit and bringing attention to themselves? Although they may put time and attention into their work, which is great, they might be hurting your business because they aren’t a team player. If they aren’t willing to collaborate with their team members, or are too competitive, they could be damaging.

Instead of scolding them, meet with them and list all of their great qualities. Thank them for their hard work, and recognize the skills that they bring to the table. Then tell them you’d like to see them evolve into more of a team player. List ways they can do this – encourage them to mentor a new employee, or lead a group project. Giving them jobs that require group success will help them find motivation in working well with their fellow employees.

Moving Forward

Appropriately addressing difficult employees can be challenging, but if done effectively, you can reduce the frequency of unprofessional behavior moving forward. Managing individuals with different personalities, challenges, and strengths isn’t easy, but by recognizing the examples included in this post, you can train your employees to be valuable assets to your company.



Bio: Katie Alteri is the content marketing coordinator at Fora Financial, a company that provides small business loans to businesses across the U.S.