4 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Employees

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Managing difficult team members or colleagues can be a pain. You’ll almost certainly come in contact with a difficult employee eventually, and that’s a problem many leaders dread. Your energy is sapped by problematic employee behavior, which also undermines your team’s morale and reduces production. Leaders need to be able to deal with challenging personnel quickly and effectively for this reason.

Let’s examine the characteristics of difficult employees as well as tried-and-true tactics for coping with them.

What does a difficult employee look like?

79% of workers said they were disengaged from their jobs in 2019.

Employees that are disengaged frequently behave badly out of frustration. For business owners, problematic workers are dreaded news. They tend to produce a hostile work environment that worsens customer relations and lowers performance and staff turnover.

Here are three illustrations of what a challenging employee may look like at work:


1. Expectations from them are not met 

Ineffective performance at the workplace may be brought on by a lack of motivation, talent, or both. Ineffective communication, inadequate resources, misalignment, or any other number of reasons else could be to blame.

Don’t dismiss a worker as being lazy if they aren’t performing well in their position. Their lack of motivation and inability to deliver may have an unknown cause.

They may no longer be challenged by their work. They could want to have a bigger impact and be discouraged by other people’s lack of commitment. They could feel confined by laws and procedures that don’t lead to better results. Alternatively, they might not have the specialized abilities needed to carry out their duties.

They could think there are no chances for professional advancement. However, a motivation drop may not always be the result of any problem at work. They may be unable to focus and be productive at work because of a health issue or issue in their home life.


3. The worker has a negative attitude

Your entire team may be impacted by the behavior of a difficult employee. An environment becomes toxic when a difficult employee has a bad attitude. A negative attitude at one’s place of work is typically passive rather than overtly hostile, but this is not always the case.

Maybe it’s the not-so-subtle eye-roll or smirk, the tardiness, and the lack of focus during meetings. Perhaps it involves office rumors or gossip about coworkers. Perhaps the devoted worker who has turned cynical and only perceives the worst in every situation or suggestion is doing it unconsciously. At first, having a nasty attitude can be amusing, but it eventually gets to everyone. Employee performance is impacted by a lousy attitude and unpleasant behavior that disturbs the entire team.

And that’s not all. If there’s also a negative attitude when working with customers or suppliers, they endanger your brand and reputation.


3. The worker challenges your authority

Employee productivity and morale suffer when a coworker challenges your authority. Additionally, it might cause other workers to question your leadership skills.

One should note, though, that not all employees who undercut those in authority do them with evil intentions. Employees might undercut managers at times because of a different perspective from the manager. They could be so committed to their viewpoint that they fail to notice how their mode of communication undermines other people.

In other situations, the employee’s obstructive behavior can be a calculated effort to cause you harm. As a leader, you’ll need to learn how to differentiate between two scenarios, as it would enable you to solve problems effectively.

A Practical Guide to Handling Difficult Employees

The following measures can assist you in handling a tough employee and in finding practical solutions:


Focus on behavior instead of people

Concentrating on particular conduct, not subjective considerations, is critical to managing a difficult employee. It is not your job to criticize them. That might not only result in pointless fighting but also has little chance of changing the behavior.

The goal is to find a means to put an end to your coworker’s inappropriate behavior and assist in helping them correct behaviors that cause working with them needlessly challenging. It is your responsibility to assist them and seek out solutions.

People are frequently unaware of how their actions affect their surroundings and working conditions. Start by non-confrontationally calling their attention to it at first. If possible, consider them to be sincere. As stated before, keep in mind that not every challenging employee sets out to be challenging.

Then, to help them get a hold of the issue, offer them particular instances where they displayed improper behavior.


Determine the root causes of the issue

Every individual has specific motivations for their actions. Because of this, figuring out the causes is essential before dealing with the issue.

It could be associated with the following:

  • Their work
  • Relationships with other coworkers at work
  • Personal difficulties that limit their ability to do their jobs effectively

It is your duty as a leader to identify and address the problem’s underlying causes.


Welcome criticism

Problematic conduct may be due to how employees feel about and interact with their workplace.

Managers need to be receptive to criticism. This might be an issue with management or whatever else your employee is having with the company. Make a setting where your team members feel comfortable voicing their ideas. Ensure you grasp what they are saying by practicing active listening. Pay attention to the perspectives of your employees without passing judgment.

A tough individual may occasionally simply require a sympathetic ear. This frequently aids in altering their mindset and actions.


Give precise instructions

To be an effective leader, you must convey your directives in a straightforward manner.

In a squabble, you should focus on two things:

  • Encourage your coworker to let down their guard.
  • Give them the knowledge they need to change their behavior.

To do this, you must provide the employee with precise, in-depth feedback on their conduct, along with real-world examples.


Outline goals and specific repercussions

Together with your employee, note any changes to expectations or conduct. Create a plan with clear objectives, a timetable, and frequent progress reviews. It’ll be easier for both of you to understand one another on this basis.

Keeping track of any negative effects of not altering behavior as needed is crucial. If someone has a definite plan and is conscious of the repercussions of not acting, they are more likely to take the situation seriously.


Track development

The next stage is to track your employee’s progress after you’ve created their action plan. They will be able to accomplish their objectives thanks to this and do so on schedule.

Follow-up methods include:

  • Obtaining opinions from other colleagues
  • Assessing the effectiveness of their efforts
  • Having frequent one-on-one conversations

For optimum transparency, put your observations and reports in writing. Use these reports to assess their performance after the predetermined time.


Think ahead

A thorough and adequate hiring process can assist in avoiding issues with challenging personnel. A background check should be performed on new applicants. Employing supervisors should look at a candidate’s job history and the reasons why they left.

Behavioral interviews aid interviewers in identifying warning signs that could presage problematic behavior in the future.


Maintain composure and respect

It’s never easy to give someone bad news or fire them. People frequently become irritated when tensions rise.

Maintaining composure and avoiding judgment or criticism is crucial for managers. Keep your tone neutral and your body language consistent.

Maintain a professional, honest and courteous demeanor while concentrating on the facts.

People can be challenging at times if they don’t feel appreciated. Before making a major change, you should determine what is causing their conduct.


The ability to handle challenging personnel is crucial. Anyone who is a leader or who aspires to be a leader must understand how to manage challenging employees. The secret is to handle the situation calmly and logically, considering all the contributing elements before acting.

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