Managing difficult employees
As a line manager we have all had (or have) that problem employee. The time spent in dealing with such employees is disproportional and is emotionally and energy draining.
Often, we avoid those difficult conversations and then situations arise where we think that now is not the right time.
So, what should you do if you have a problem employee that is sucking your time and energy away and is impacting the rest of the team or even your business?
Listen and observe
Sometimes we effectively switch off to that employee because it has reached the stage where everything they say or do has just become annoying or irritating.
Take a step back and observe, listen to what they are saying and try to understand the cause of the issues.
Give clear objectional feedback
You know there are issues but they may not be with performance, i.e. targets are being met, the work is getting done etc. but it’s their behaviour that is causing you problems and disrupting the apple cart.
Behavioural issues are hard to tackle, you might not even know if you’re even ‘allowed’ to discuss them with the employee for fear of recrimination.
Be clear, set out what the problem is, say what needs to improve and why. Explain what the possible outcomes could be if the behaviour doesn’t change.
This may sound like overkill but make sure you document a timeline of events as you go along; every conversation, keep every email and letter as to what was said and agreed to by both parties. Keeping an up to date timeline will save you time later on if things turn sour, it will also be more accurate as you’re trying to remember, weeks or months down the line.
Remember, if an employee is difficult while still employed, don’t assume this will stop when they leave the organisation.
Follow your policy and procedure
Tribunals have been fought and won on the back of companies not following their own procedure. A disgruntled employee, who might well have been in the wrong but because the company didn’t follow their own procedure, were found at fault and the employee won the case. Fair enough the award might have been severely reduced (our tribunal judges are not idiots!) but who wants to put themselves through a tribunal unnecessarily?
Terminating someone’s employment is the hardest thing a manager has to do. Don’t dwell, don’t procrastinate, and don’t put it off or pass it on to someone else. As a manager, this is part of your remit if you do any of these things, you will lose credibility and respect amongst your team and your superiors. The worst part is that you are prolonging the angst of the problem employee, as by this stage they generally know its coming. Play fair.