How to Deal With a Difficult Employee

Man on the phone at the office
••• Thomas Barwick/ Stone/ Getty Images

It is inevitable in your role as a manager that you will have to deal with employees who earn the label "difficult." While some managers choose to do nothing, it is worth your while to take action to remedy the problem. After all, maintaining an effective working environment is conducive to employee performance.

Effective managers use a deliberate approach when delivering a constructive feedback discussion for dealing with difficult employees. Here are some tips on how to best deal with a difficult employee.


Watch Now: 9 Tips for Handling a Problem Employee

Verify and Evaluate

Workplace gossip should not be relied upon for information about an employee. If you haven't established a trusting working relationship with this person yet, initiate a conversation with them to allow them to begin feeling comfortable talking to you.

This is important part of the verification process. Jumping right into a conversation about personal problems or work difficulties with someone you don't have a solid relationship with may not be very effective for identifying issues.

It may take you more than a few conversations with them to develop the right circumstances for talking about the situation. Once you have gained their trust, you can bring up the issues. Take time to evaluate and reflect on any issues you find, unless they require immediate actions, to allow you to design appropriate measures.

A Helpful Mindset

Approach an employee who appears to be struggling with an open, helpful mindset. Your goal is to give the employee a chance to speak about what is keeping them from performing at the desired level. Express that you're there to help and guide them.

Provide Clear Examples

After your due diligence, when you are clear in your assessment and presentation of the problems, you can address the issues you found.

Ensure you point out the effect that problems can have on team performance. Approach these subjects in a sincere manner. You may want to have some facts and figures with you so that you could demonstrate the impact low performance has.

Appropriate Language

Sometimes the best route to a solution is not always the direct one. Talk to your employee with the tone of a mentor. "I noticed you appear to be tired and distracted a lot lately. Is everything OK?"

This can open a dialogue with the person you are reaching out to. This does depend on the relationship you have with your employees, so work to establish trust with them before any problems arise.

Listen to the Employee

As you talk with the difficult employee, actively listen to what they say. Stay calm and positive. Ask open-ended questions that can't be answered in one or two words. Try not to interrupt.

Stay engaged in the conversation. This will demonstrate an interest in the person you are talking to and may help you identify any issues. If you can determine the source of difficulty, you have a much better chance of finding a solution.

They may also be experiencing personal problems that are affecting their professional lives. Many people will not be comfortable discussing personal matters with their managers, but if you can establish rapport early on in a working relationship you may become someone employees trust.

If there is a personal issue, you could point the employee in the direction of some professional assistance, such as a therapist, or to an employee assistance program if you have one.

Establish Support

Let your struggling employee know that you are here to offer assistance and help them through whatever might be holding them back.

Develop the Solution Together

The desired result of an engagement with a difficult employee is an agreed-upon solution. Discuss some goals with the employee, and be sure to look for their input. If you can, let your team member establish goals for themselves. This gives them a stake in their own improvement process, and lets you know they are interested in improving.

Provide Training

Some employees require more training than others. As you are assessing the difficulties, listen for keywords and phrases that may indicate the need for training. If you identify some skills that need developing, create a plan to get them the training they need.

Check-In Regularly

Checking in with employees that are struggling has many benefits. It not only demonstrates to them your commitment, but it gives you additional time with the employee to further assist them.