4 Answers You Need Before Firing Your Problem Employee

It's baffling why promising people undercut their success by exasperating their teammates.

learn more about Heather R. Huhman

By Heather R. Huhman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

After months of searching for the missing piece to the company's puzzle, a job offer was finally made and accepted. Unfortunately, what seemed like a match made in heaven is more like the opposite. The company's new hire turned out to be a lot less efficient than they originally claimed, likes to dish out plenty of criticism (but can't take it) and is just plain difficult to work with.

And it's contagious. A problematic employee leads to an equally problematic work environment due to a decrease in individual and overall productivity and morale and an increase in frustrated co-workers, customers and vendors.

But, before determining the piece no longer fits the puzzle, it's important to figure out whether the employee's behavior is just a phase or here to stay. So, here are four things to consider before deciding to let a problematic employee go:

1. How they respond to feedback.

Everyone likes to hear that they're doing a great job, but not everyone is as ready and willing to listen to -- let alone apply -- constructive criticism. But how an employee responds to hearing that they can (and should) be doing better is very telling of their potential to do just that.

In a 2014 study of 899 individuals by the Harvard Business Review, it was revealed that, while 43 percent of employees prefer to receive praise or recognition, more employees (57 percent) prefer corrective feedback -- and that's how it should be. Employees who want the latter are actively looking to improve their skills.

The study by HBR also found that 72 percent of employees said their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback, so strive to do so, as needed (i.e. not just during year-end performance reviews).

To get a better reaction out of problematic employees, start by pointing out what the employee is doing well and offer ways to help them improve in areas that may need a little extra TLC.

Related: The 8 Characteristics of Healthy Confrontation

2. How they handle successes and failures.

An employee's willingness to take ownership and show accountability for their actions, as well as their ability to identify and celebrate the successes of others, plays a huge role in determining their potential within the workplace. An employee who will readily take the credit for a job well done, but places the blame on others when a project goes awry, is not good for business (or overall morale).

To foster an accountable culture, make sure employees have a clear idea of who is responsible for what. Delegating is about more than simply assigning tasks; it's about communicating who holds the decision-making power on certain projects and empowering employees to hold themselves responsible.

3. How they interact with team members.

A great employee doesn't just perform well, they behave well. That may seem like a given in the workplace, but a recent survey of more than 3,000 U.S. workers by CareerBuilder found three in four employees have witnessed some type of childish behavior while at work, from tattling on a coworker (44 percent) to starting rumors (30 percent) to refusing to share resources (23 percent).

Keep an eye on how employees interact with one another to better identify whether problem employees are worth keeping around. Employees who exhibit these types of behaviors are likely doing more harm than good.

As an added bonus, use a tool like YouEarnedIt, an employee engagement platform based on peer-to-peer recognition and rewards, to encourage the right employee interactions while at work.

Related: How to Fire an Employee So You Don't Get Sued

4. Where they're heading.

According to Saba Software and WorkplaceTrends.com's 2015 Global Workforce Leadership Survey, the 31 percent of employees who would share their goals, background talents and motivations believe that employers are not asking the right questions when getting information from them.

To really tell if a problem employee has the desire to change, start by asking the right questions. What do they hope to accomplish in their role? Where do they hope to be five years from now?

Questions like these can help employers determine if an employee's individual work goals are in line with the company's. If not, their problematic behavior may be more than just a passing phase.

Related: Managing the Unmanageable: The 6 Most Common Types of Difficult Employees

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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