How to Manage an Unmanageable Employee

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How to Manage an Unmanageable Employee

While difficult employees often create misunderstandings, disrupt day-to-day work and affect team morale, it’s not always possible to fire them immediately. Whether it’s an employee who can’t get along with others, doesn’t respond well to authority or someone who displays insubordination, every manager inevitably deals with at least one difficult employee.

Not only are bad attitudes distracting for the manager, they also prove to be unhealthy for the team and for the overall workplace morale. What’s more, if the employee interacts with clients, it could lead to loss of business too. Worse, it may set a precedent for other employees to imitate.

As the manager, you can – and should – handle the worker in question and the sooner you do it, the better it is for the rest of the team.


Review Company Policies

Before you communicate with the employee, consult HR and request information and advice on company policies. Use this as a benchmark for your communication with the employee.


Find the Source

Find the deeper source of bad behavior. Examine if there are other hidden issues involved including overwork, problems in his personal life, toxic colleagues or instances of bullying. Talk to the employee – privately and respectfully – during a performance review or in an informal setting.

Maintain a calm and assertive tone and offer alternative solutions like mentoring or coaching. Document your discussion and communicate clearly regarding commitment, responsibility and expectations. Allow for a reasonable time for a change in attitude and provide further feedback during a second meeting.


Keep the Conversation Neutral

Avoid using ‘you’ and don’t make accusatory statements. Instead, impersonally and factually state the instances of offensive behaviors and maintain a non-confrontational attitude. Keep the tone professional, polite and businesslike and listen carefully to his or her responses. Observe the body language, gestures and non-verbal cues to get a better idea of the employee’s feelings.


Take Action, Monitor Progress and Document Communication

Not only do difficult employees reduce team morale and impact productivity, their behavior also forces other team members to work twice as hard to make up. Get HR’s support and then clearly tie the employee’s behavior issues with organizational goals and performance objectives.

Consider referring the employee to the company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) for help. Most importantly, reduce the likelihood of handling difficult employees by hiring the right ones in the first place.


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