The Five Most Common Types of Difficult Employees. (And Five Tips For Dealing With Them)

March 29, 2016 10:00 am
Difficult Employee

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Protecting your business from an unwanted, but possible, eventuality is what insurance is all about. Small business owners will take out policies to protect their business and reduce the financial risk presented by a fire, tornado, or even a customer slipping on a wet floor.

There’s another kind of insurance that is just as important, and can often be overlooked: difficult employee insurance. No, this isn’t a real product, and you can’t purchase from your insurance broker. But it’s just as important as any other kind of “insurance” you can have.

Difficult employee insurance (also known as proactive management) is a policy that every manager, at every level of the organizational chart, must pay for with the most valuable resource: time. Even in a company large enough to justify a human resources department, there is no substitute for proactive management.

The five most difficult types of employees.

  1. The Victim – The victim is not accountable for anything and nothing is ever his fault. Things always seem to happen “to” a victim.
  2. The Loose Cannon – Like a bull in a china shop, the loose cannon rants and raves, leaving terror in her wake. The loose cannon can be pushy, overbearing, or even a bully. Nobody ever quite knows what will set a loose cannon off.
  3. The Negative Ned – Always ready to burst a good bubble, Negative Ned is averse to change, and resist new policies and processes. He will complain and spread discord among his peers.
  4. The Invisible Man – The Invisible Man always seems to disappear when there’s work to be done, and always has an excuse: “Sorry, I won’t be in today, I’m sick once again!” “I’d love to help you with this project, but I’ve just got so many other things to do.” “I’m running out for [whatever]. Be back soon!”.
  5. The Narcissist – The opposite of team player, the Narcissist is all about herself and her own ego. Work and business goals come second to this difficult employee.

Managing difficult employees isn’t easy, and it is a skill that can take time to develop. But when leaders learn to identify and manage difficult employees, it has an impact on both morale and the bottom line.

Five tips for dealing with difficult employees.

  1. Don’t ignore them. – Not many people like confrontation; but allowing a difficult employee to wreak havoc is bad for business. Ignoring a problem will not make it go away. A difficult employee can lower the morale and productivity of other employees, especially if their poor performance causes extra work for others. If they’re interacting with customers, it could even lead to loss of business. Address a difficult employee problem right away.
  2. De-personalize the conversation. – Keep it professional. Give concrete examples. Succinctly and factually state the offensive behaviors and the impact they are having on the organization. Avoid generalities such as “not a team player,” and offer specific examples.
  3. Don’t make any assumptions. – Have a conversation with the person in a private setting and find out if they’re aware of their behavior. Also determine if there may be external, personal factors influencing their actions. The employee’s personal life may be in turmoil, and he or she may not realize that it’s apparent at work. If they need assistance to get their personal life in order, provide them with any resources your company offers, such as an Employee Assistance Program or other programs offered through insurance.
  4. Develop a framework. – Consistency is vital when dealing with difficult employees. Approach each situation in the same consistent and measured manner. Invariably, every other employee is watching, hearing, and talking about what’s going on. You’re not just dealing with the problem at hand, you’re letting every other person in the organization know what’s expected, and what to expect from you. It will also help you confront these situations swiftly instead of procrastinating.
  5. Escalate to documented corrective action when appropriate. – When discussions and conversations don’t yield the necessary results, the next logical step is documented disciplinary action. Not only does a detailed record of verbal and written corrective action protect your company if termination of employment becomes necessary, it helps the employee understand the seriousness of the matter.

Perhaps the most important managerial skill of all is to send the right message to your team or organization. Let them know that you’re willing to work for solutions, but also ready to confront substandard performance and workplace misconduct directly, immediately, and consistently.

As with any kind of insurance, being prepared for problems with a difficult employee, and taking steps to mitigate the damage they can cause is vital.

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