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How To Deal With Difficult Employees

How to Deal with Difficult Employees

For a company to succeed in delivering its goals, having focused, productive and amiable employees is essential. This means that knowing how to deal with difficult employees is a key skill for managers to have to help avoid unnecessary disruptions at work.

In some cases, these are simple personality clashes which need managing, but in more extreme circumstances, employees can be negligent, dishonest and unhelpful which can lead to bigger disruptions across the business.

To decide which action to take when disciplining a staff member, there are several HR regulations which need to be adhered to.

Read on for 8 steps to consider when deciding how best to deal with difficult employees including:

  • How to talk to employees
  • Setting company behaviour expectations
  • Address unacceptable behaviour
  • Offering support
  • Monitoring progress
  • When and how to involve HR
  • Keeping good notes
  • Knowing when it is time to let an employee go

1. Talk to the Difficult Employee Personally

One of the key areas to address when dealing with a difficult employee is communication.

Making sure there are open lines of communication should allow the employee to express their concerns openly, as well as feel included in the processes involved in accessing their work or behaviour. Open communication like this could shed valuable insights and allow you to address the employee’s concerns or difficult behaviour more effectively.

There are likely to be several reasons that could be causing issues to arise with an employee’s performance so it’s important to be able to get to the root cause if you can.

This could be something personal in the employee’s life or it could be a professional issue, such as feeling undervalued or undermotivated. Listen to your employees’ concerns and suggest what steps can be put in place to address them.

2. Lay Out Your Company’s Behavioural Policies

There is an expected level of professional standards which each employee should adhere to. To avoid any confusion, these should be set out clearly in a documented behaviour policy which each employee should confirm they have read.

This means each employee will be clear on expected standards and avoid any disruption in the workplace due to misunderstanding of policy, and can also refer back to it when needing to address situations that contravene the policy.

All employees should be held accountable to the same professional standards which are laid out in the behavioural policy. If for any reason any of these professional standards are breached, it should be documented which standard this was, as well as any impending consequences for repeat events.

3. Address Unacceptable Behaviours Immediately

If there are any breaches in the behavioural policy relating to particularly worrying or disturbing behaviour such as argumentative/aggressive employees, or claims of bullying, these should be addressed immediately by informing the HR team of the breach and providing details of the incident/s.

Depending on the severity of the incident, this may result in disciplinary action being taken against the employee. These types of issues should be dealt with immediately as it is important to show the employee in question, as well as all other employees, that this type of behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

By taking decisive action in dealing with the situation, it will show that the company treats employee welfare seriously.

4. Offer Support When Needed

It is important to remain empathetic and in communication with the employee at all times, even if disciplinary action has been taken. By having regular 1-2-1s with the employee, it will allow you to build a better relationship and highlight where there are extra needs, such as training, guidance or support.

In some cases, just being able to discuss their concerns with superiors at regular times can make workers feel included and an important part of the team. It’s always a great way to build trust that can be called upon should the time come that difficult conversations need to be had with the employee about their behaviour.

5. Monitor Progress Regularly

It is important to track progress closely to determine if the actions put in place to support the employee have been successful. By having a baseline to compare against, the employee will likely feel more engaged to display positive behaviours if they are aware that any deviation from baseline will result in additional disciplinary measures being taken.

As part of the baseline for employee behaviour, this should consist of clear goals to be met and behaviours to be avoided. By tracking progress with regular reports against baseline, will allow you to identify any issues quickly and put in place corrective actions to prevent potential further consequences for the employee.

6. Involve Your HR Team

There are a number of HR regulations which apply to employees, so it is essential that your HR team is included in the disciplinary process. They will be able to provide guidance on allowable actions and actions to avoid in the best interest of the company.

The HR team can also provide valuable assistance in providing the framework for investigations into employees to ensure the process is carried out in the correct way. This can be extremely valuable when ensuring that any decisions taken by the company are legal and will not result in any kind of action being taken against the company.

7. Document Everything

All exchanges between employees and HR/Company should be documented. This is beneficial to the company as it provides a baseline of what’s been agreed with the employee, allows progress tracking for the employee to be monitored and in the most extreme of scenarios, can protect the business from any potential legal claims.

If the company ever does have to defend itself against a legal claim, for example against an ex-employee, having all the records from interactions with an employee documented and stored, will provide valuable information to refer back to.

8. Know When It’s Time To Let Go

If an employee continues to be a negative influence on a team with their poor behaviour, even after steps have been taken to curb or manage it, it may be time to terminate the employment.

HR should be included in the disciplinary process whether it’s a verbal or written warning being given especially when it results in employee termination. HR can also provide an unbiased view which may help prevent any confrontational exchanges with the employee.

Creating a Positive and Supportive Work Environment

Creating positive and supportive work environments for employees can play a big part in helping them to feel engaged with their roles and work.

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, so if you can help to keep employees content through simple acts and processes, then hopefully you can reduce the number of times that you will need to deal with difficult employees.

There are plenty of ways that this can be achieved including:

  • Regular communication throughout organisation at all levels
  • Collecting feedback on employee satisfaction & implementing feedback
  • Improve company harmony by involving teams in relationship building activities
  • Celebrate individual and group success
  • Regular 1-2-1’s with staff
  • Make sure employees feel empowered to discuss their concerns
  • Promote positive behaviours and be a role model for the way you expect your employees to act

By including these positive behaviours in company policy and culture, it will ensure good collaboration across the teams, improve efficiency and reduce staff turnover.

Customising Disciplinary Approaches

Each employee is different and as such, needs to be dealt with differently. Take time to assess the important point of each case – specific to the employee – before deciding on disciplinary measures. This will provide valuable insights on the next steps of corrective action.

By examining on a case-by-case basis, it can lead to valuable insights such as lack of training or process gaps with the employee. For example, if an employee continually makes mistakes this could be a result of inefficient training or processes which allow enhancing operations.

This could also be down to an external factor – such as a personal matter – where paid leave instead of disciplinary action may be the most appropriate step.

For the more severe incidents, termination – supported by documented evidence – may be appropriate although providing the correct support will allow employees to correct behaviours before more serious action is required.

This will build rapport with employees as they will feel supported by the company to improve.

Utilising Mediation and Arbitration

Sometimes it may be appropriate to engage third-party support to resolve more complex issues. This would usually only be required should the company’s disciplinary process not be sufficient for the scenario that’s arisen.

Third-party support can provide a range of methodologies to try and resolve conflict. Examples of this will involve individual and group discussions to try and agree a way forward. The solution may not completely resolve the issue although it may provide a better understanding of the issue to enable a positive outcome for both parties.

If no agreeable outcome can be reached between the parties, and as an alternative to going to court, an arbitrator can be appointed to make an independent ruling on the case. This would usually be a last resort if there is no longer a way forward that is satisfactory to both parties.

Accommodating Employees with Disabilities

Under the Equality Act 2010, there may be additional steps that are required when managing difficult employees who have registered a disability with the company.

To support a registered disabled employee additional measures may be needed. This could include things such as extra leave, reducing job responsibilities and providing office equipment to enable employees to perform responsibilities properly. Providing this type of support is considered a legal requirement for organisations.

The HR team should be closely involved in each step of the disciplinary process against an employee with disabilities as there may be a need to involve legal advisors for guidance on appropriate action to be followed.

Each step provided in the legal guidance should be followed complicity to the evidence support provided.

Best Practices for Conducting Disciplinary Meetings

Below are some important steps that should be followed in disciplinary meetings to ensure employees are treated fairly and enable a resolution to the conflict:

  • Providing sufficient prior notice to employees about the meeting
  • Enabling employees to have an independent observer present
  • Provide evidence of the facts causing the issue and not feelings
  • Let the employee be heard
  • Be able to demonstrate and provide examples where improved standards are required
  • Provide clear expectations of next steps and what timeline this will follow
  • Documenting minutes from each meeting and circulating for discussion

Following these guidelines makes the process more likely to succeed as using a proven framework and employees will be clear on expectations going forward.

Providing Adequate Employee Re-Training

Inadequate training or missing steps in procedures is usually one of the most common reasons for poor performance. This, if not corrected, could lead to disciplinary action.

Other steps to help ensure good performance are:

  • Offering alternative opportunities for employees instead of dismissal
  • Understanding any skills gaps and taking corrective action to fill
  • Use instructor-led training
  • Monitor employee performance to evidence proficiency
  • Provide additional support for specialised jobs
  • Conduct regular 1-2-1’ to evaluate performance and collect feedback from employee

Taking responsibility as a company for employee performance and providing sufficient training demonstrates a commitment to helping employees thrive and perform to the best of their ability.

Drawing The Line with Toxic Employees

“Toxic employees”, are employees who consistently exhibit negative behaviours leading to disruption within a team or process. This can present itself in different ways from being aggressive to partaking in unethical behaviours. These types of people can prevent teams from achieving their goal.

As a company, the first step would be to help and support employees with positive behaviour change steps. In the rare cases where no mediation has been successful, due to an individual’s personality, more serious disciplinary steps would be considered.

In the event the employee continues to exhibit “toxic” behaviours, the immediate termination would be considered for the overall good of the company.

Final Thoughts

The aim of any company is to ensure that all employees within that company are focused and driven so they can work together for the benefit of the business, whilst remaining in good spirits. To do this, employers need to provide good training and support to their employees so that they have the tools to thrive at work.

Whilst each case of managing a difficult employee will be unique, it’s important to remain consistent in challenging difficult employee behaviour. Each case should be handled based on the specifics of the employee and the scenario to ensure fairness in the process and enable employees to highlight issues which may be impacting their individual or team members’ performance with confidence.

If negative behaviours continue, despite numerous attempts at conflict resolution, then for the overall good of the company, the employee may need to have their employment terminated in line with established disciplinary processes and employment laws.



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