Managing difficult employees

Managing Your 5 Most Difficult Employees

by Lauren Newcomb

Motivating the Slacker

A slacking employee’s lack of motivation stems from a variety of sources. Perhaps they never developed a strong work ethic. Perhaps they’re simply not a good fit for the job. Regardless of the root cause, slacker behavior is contagious and a can be a real threat to your team’s productivity.

These types of employees will not change their behavior unless a manager confronts them about it. Use performance review tools and set goals for improvement. Do not give slackers free passes. If you accept inadequate work, it sets a dangerous precedent. Other employees will take note and either slack off as well or feel resentful that they work so much harder than the slacker for the same returns. Slackers will take advantage of managerial passivity, so an active and direct approach is best.

If things don’t change, Erika Andersen, founder of the coaching firm Proteus, suggests getting more specific. Set a consequence, such as being let go, if the behavior does not improve by a specific date.

Reforming Negative Nellie

Everyone has an off day now and then. But when an employee perpetually brings a bad attitude to work, everyone suffers. Other employees can feel the negativity and it affects their moods. One negative employee can quickly bring morale and productivity down by gossiping, complaining, spreading rumors, and undermining authority.

Tim Gould, editor of HRMorning, suggests you identify specific things the employee is doing to create a negative atmosphere. Then, make it clear that these actions are detrimental to the company and should not continue. Make sure the employee understands how these actions affect other employees, and stress the importance of a positive work environment.

A good way to get through to negative employees is to emphasize that improving their attitude will make them more successful at their job, well-liked by their colleagues, and happier in general. These kinds of conversations can be difficult, but when they work, the entire office benefits from a better working environment.

Grounding Walter Mitty

This is the daydreamer, the space cadet of the world. He’s not necessarily operating on the same plane as the rest of us. He can have brilliant ideas and contribute greatly to projects, if managed correctly. This abstract thinker needs the manager to define expectations clearly and set up periodic meetings to check up on progress.

Daydreamers like to think about new ideas and future possibilities and they dislike mundane paperwork and repetitive tasks. It can be helpful to explain to them that the big projects are not entirely complete unless the mundane aspects are handled too. According to office coach Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D., you can help by splitting up their big ideas into manageable problems and tasks to tackle.

Because this type of difficult employee is so abstract and their thinking so different, it can be easy to lose them in the crowd. Listen to them. Be careful not to dismiss their idea as unfeasible, no matter how impractical it seems. It could become your company’s next big thing.

Shrinking Vanity Smurf’s Ego

Narcissistic employees tend to be selfish and not work well with others. They have an exaggerated sense of importance and a lack of empathy for those around them. Try to recognize narcissism early on to reduce its negative impact. Some warning signs include never taking the blame, taking advantage of colleagues, and wanting more recognition for achievements than is warranted.

Narcissists are usually hard workers, but poor collaborators. They often have a personal agenda separate from the goals of the business. This can be detrimental to team dynamics and create a hostile work environment. They are so ambitious, they may even go after your job!

To combat the influence of the narcissist, suggests you document everything. Explain to the narcissist that blaming others for his own mistakes will not help him advance, nor will taking advantage of coworkers. If this employee is after your job, alert HR and your superiors. If others are aware of your employee’s agenda, it’s less likely to cause you harm.

Collaborating with the Lone Ranger

What are the top dreaded words for the high-school loner?

“Group Project.”

Unfortunately, they’re also the most dreaded words for the company loner.

The idea of working closely with other people and depending upon them to do their part can be terrifying for the loner. These difficult employees are uncomfortable losing control. They hate having to rely on others. They much prefer working, with little distraction and without being micromanaged. They like it when the manager gives them a project and then leaves them alone until it’s done.

The loner needs a combination approach, on the one hand, they tend to work better alone. On the other hand their insight is often instrumental in collaborative projects.

Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D., suggests giving these types of employees some autonomy as they produce their best work when left to their own devices. However, there should also be some time set for collaboration meetings so they can contribute to the team and benefit from hearing how others approach a problem.

How to Handle Difficult Employees?

To summarize, here are some tricks to help you handle your most difficult employees:

1. Use performance reviews to review old goals and set new ones.
2. Bring up specific negative behavior that needs improvement.
3. Set up periodic meetings to check up on progress.
4. Document all incidencts.
5. Balance teamwork with individual tasks.