Dealing with a ‘difficult’ employee is an inevitable part of a manager’s role. ‘Difficult’ doesn’t necessarily mean incompetent but perhaps they just require more guidance or struggle to work within the team. From the employee’s perspective there are many reasons why they may be frustrated in their roles. Are they being underutilised? Undervalued? Has their workload increased? Regardless of the root of their discontent, there are steps you can take to improve the relationship:
1. Hear them out
Sometimes just giving an employee some quality airtime can be enough to affect their attitude in a positive way, so allow him or her to express their dissatisfaction, irritation and concerns (even if you’re not totally convinced of their validity).
Arrange a one-on-one meeting where you actively take their views on board and give them the opportunity to speak openly with you. Even if they are initially reluctant, encourage them to give their honest feedback on the working environment and the issues they are experiencing. This not only makes them feel heard but it means they are less likely to moan to their coworkers, stemming the negative energy around the office.
2. Deal with poor performance
Address any issues with their performance quickly and directly. Offer them frequent and constructive feedback about how they can improve and ask them to reflect on their own strengths, weaknesses and ways they can add more value in their role. Determine the best course of action together as they’ll be more motivated if you’re tackling the problem collaboratively. As manager, it’s crucial that you can distinguish between poor performance and misconduct and remain focused on the actions of the person rather than their personality.
3. Be patient
Changing behaviours is a lengthy process so try to be patient and realise there’s no quick fix here. Set milestones for performance reviews and track progress. Keep a record of all exchanges and targets, this will be especially necessary if it comes to disciplinary action or even dismissal.
4. Stick to your guns
If you’re reprimanding an employee for a certain misdemeanour, be consistent about it. It will completely undermine your position if you’re seen to selectively enforce rules. Holding an employee accountable for bad behaviour can be uncomfortable but it’s absolutely necessary to be an effective leader. Avoid sharing your frustrations with other team members, even if they initiate it, as this can foster bad will and damage your reputation.
5. Keep your emotions in check
As difficult as it may be, don’t allow a problem employee to provoke you. Maintain a professional distance and ensure you’re going through the correct company channels, documenting each and every incident/issue as you go. Be prepared to discipline them in accordance with company policy and be sure you’ve adequate evidence to justify your decision.