Advice, Tips, and Observations on Business and Consumers

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What is a difficult employee? There are many definitions or perceptions of a difficult employee! These range from: interpersonal problems; insubordination through aggression or violence; poor performance; poor attendance or punctuality; substance abuse; or lack of integrity. In short, an individual whose performance is unsatisfactory or displaying unacceptable behaviour by the standards and values ​​of your organisation.

The negative impact of these employees on the organisation can take various forms: reduced productivity or efficiency; reduced quality of customer service; the workload of other employees; and negatives effects on the physical health of managers and colleagues in a deteriorated working environment. Ultimately a poor working environment can even lead to the resignation of high performers.

Managing difficult employees can become one of the biggest challenges for managers, but they often feel helpless or very poorly equipped to deal with this situation.

Here are some tips to help you:

First stop avoiding the issue thinking that the problem will solve itself. In most organisations that I have been part of, when managers have entrusted me with the difficult task of managing “difficult” employees, I have asked, "When was the last performance evaluation of the employees in question? Did you already give feedback? Have you provided any support or training? Has any disciplinary action been taken?" Their answer is usually "no". And yet, avoidance is the worst strategy to use. It conveys a mixed message to the employees and results in the loss of credibility and leadership.

Rather you should raise awareness of the problem, its impact on the team and the organisation. Then identify in what ways the employee causes problems: performance, attitude or behaviour?
Then, assisted by the counsellor of your organisation's human resources, schedule a meeting.
Before the meeting, it will be important to document the specific facts on record and tangible results and avoid perceptions and hearsay. You will need appropriate feedback to questions by observing the behaviour and results of the employee.

Finally, practice constructive feedback during this meeting, using the following steps:

  • Present the facts observed and tangible results
  • Take note of the reactions of the employee
  • Explain the impact of their performance and their behavior on the team and the organisation
  • Identify one to three areas for improvement in the short term
  • Empower them in the search for solutions and the establishment of an action plan.

For the Action Plan, two solutions are available to you depending on the severity of the problem, either coaching or training, or professional counselling. Whatever the strategy adopted in the action plan, the determination to follow through to completion is essential. Of course, your role does not stop there. You must follow up with the employee and meet regularly to evaluate their learning. The rigour of this process is the main condition for success.

In the event that the coaching and counselling are not working or when the fault of the employee warrants it, disciplinary action should be considered. Again rigour is required; follow the principle of gradation of sanctions: warning without note to file; notice with verbal note to file; written notice; suspension (with or without pay); or dismissal. But be careful when using disciplinary action, dismissal in particular, or resorting to it too quickly. The negative impacts are numerous both in terms of costs (severance pay, replacement), work climate (insecurity, creating clans), loss of leadership, etc. Personally I have observed that the sudden use of disciplinary action with problem employees after a long period of avoidance on the part of managers can be perceived as psychological harassment.

As you may have noticed, managing difficult employees can be both simple and complex, fear or fear of intervening can often create serious consequences for your organisation. In response, arm yourself with a dose of courage, perseverance and especially determination.