If your job requires employee supervision, you’ll inevitably be forced to deal with at least one difficult employee. Whether it’s excessive absenteeism or poor productivity, you will have to either get the most out of these employees or send them packing.
Among the types of difficult employees you’ll encounter are those who feel entitled to have things exactly the way they want, when they want it. These employees may refuse to take on a task because they simply don’t want to do it. They may constantly leap up the chain of command until they find someone who will say "yes,'' making you look bad as a boss.
Dealing with these employees is tricky. Here are three tips that will help.
Be stern. If the problem is refusal to complete work assignments, it’s important that you hold your ground in any standoff. You are, after all, the boss, and your word has to be law.
Even if you are not the type to manage in a domineering fashion, employees who constantly try to gain the upper hand make that type of leadership necessary. Tell, don’t ask, the employee that you are assigning a specific duty. When the employee continues to refuse, state firmly that you are going to need that employee to take care of the work for you. If he or she simply doesn’t complete the task, document the behavior and issue a written warning.
It’s important, as these interactions occur, that you get to the root of why the person is refusing. Are you making an unreasonable request? If the employee offers a reason for not completing the task, listen to that reason and consider whether it is a valid concern. In many cases, however, the refusal can be seen as insubordination, which can reflect badly on you as a manager and deplete overall office morale.
Discipline behavior, not personality. As incidents occur, take the time to document each one as objectively. That will provide a paper trail when the time comes to discipline the employee. If you have superiors, it will also serve as backup if you’re ever asked to answer to complaints about your management style. In cases where the employee is going above your head to get his or her way, save any emails you’re copied on for additional documentation.
If the behavior goes against company policy, use that when you discuss the problems with the employee. Explain that continued violation of company policy is grounds for dismissal and, if the behavior continues, you will have to take further measures. Be sure when explaining this that you avoid discussions of the employee’s personality, often disguised under the term “attitude.” Employee attitudes aren’t as tangible as documented, observed behaviors, that often can be corroborated by witnesses.
Be proactive. If your employee is consistently going above your head or discussing matters with clients or customers, it can be disastrous to wait. As you notice these behaviors occurring, be sure you tell those superior or clients that you’ve asked the employee to come to you. This is especially true in the case of an employee who continually takes matters up the chain, disregarding all protocols, in order to get his or her way.
When you notice an employee has spoken to someone, gently remind that employee that he or she is to come to you with those issues. Immediately following that discussion, speak to the client or superior who was involved and explain that you asked the employee not to bother him with such matters. While you likely won’t want to continue to run to all parties involved, if an employee continues to discuss issues with upper management, it may be time to schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss how to proceed. This proactive approach prevents a situation where you’re called in to answer to accusations that have been levied against you.
Difficult employees are an inevitable part of the management process. By maintaining your professionalism at all times, though, you’ll be a step ahead of those employees and have the documentation you need to dismiss those workers when the time comes.
Related: Firing Problem Employees