5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Employees

It has happened again. One of your employees is making life difficult for the rest of the department. The discontent has become a major distraction for your team, causing a dramatic decrease in their productivity.

Managers need to understand that a negative employee is not just a problem between them and that employee. The air of dissent affects everyone who’s around it.

Even though dealing with “problem employees” isn’t a favorite task for most managers, it’s part of the job. You will have to deal with the employee, and better sooner than later.

Easier said than done, right? Here are some guidelines that can help you handle the situation in a more diplomatic and effective way.

1. Don’t ignore the problem

It isn’t going to go away. Few people enjoy confrontation; but allowing a difficult employee to wreak havoc on your workplace is bad for business. Their bad attitude and actions can lower the morale and productivity of your other employees, especially if those employees take on extra work to avoid interacting with that person. And if they’re interacting with your clients, it could even lead to loss of business. You need to speak with the employee about the problem as soon as it is evident, before it gets out of hand.

2. De-personalize the conversation

Use “I” language instead of “you” language. Don’t open with a statement such as, “You are negative.” Instead give concrete examples, such as, “During yesterday’s meeting I noticed that you were not participating and even rolled your eyes while a co-worker was speaking.” Succinctly and factually state the offensive behaviors and the impact they are having on the team. Avoid generalities such as “not a team player,” and offer specific instances that were offensive.

3. Don’t make any assumptions

Open a dialogue 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 may have, such as an employee assistance program or other program offered through insurance.

4. Keep it professional

Remembering that you have a business rather than a personal relationship with the person can help keep things professional and polite. It may sound harsh, but the employee was hired to perform a specific job, not to become a friend.

5. Suggest improvements

It is naive and unrealistic to expect that all co-workers will truly like and appreciate each other. It’s not, however, unrealistic to expect a courteous and productive work environment. All employees should treat each other with respect. Remind the employee that a part of their job performance is measured by how well they contribute to the organization’s success. Don’t skirt the issue or avoid frank conversation. You can speak candidly, but be respectful and professional. Your suggestions should be objective, realistic and helpful. So, what happens now? Once you have talked with the employee and addressed the issue, you have to follow through. It is imperative that the employee knows that you are staying on top of the matter and will be paying attention. If you see the behavior continue, take the proper disciplinary action. Negativity and lack of productivity can be corrosive to any work environment. While it may be human nature to want to avoid conflict and hope that a situation will resolve itself, ignoring the actions of a difficult employee can harm your business.

Hopefully the above tips will give you the confidence you need to address these issues before they get out of hand. The rest of your employees with thank– and respect– you for it.

Looking for more tips on how to handle employee-related issues in your office? Download our free e-book, A practical guide to managing difficult employees.

A practical guide to managing difficult employees
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6 responses to “5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Employees

Martha Lazo-Munoz

So after you’ve done all you can and this employee/consultant still continues with negative attitude? then what? And how do you effectively terminate?

Insperity Blog

Hi Martha, Thank you for your question. These two posts of ours may be of assistance to you – they cover the topics of handling negative employees and terminations. https://www.insperity.com/blog/negative-employees-how-to-keep-one-from-spoiling-the-whole-bunch/ ; https://www.insperity.com/blog/6-steps-you-need-to-take-before-terminating-an-employee-for-poor-performance/


Its right that you as a boss no become a best friend, but in my experience I found that as a boss you need to know very well your team. I mean to know who is my worker as a person over a worker.

Insperity Blog

Thanks for sharing, Wil – we appreciate your insights.


Handling a difficult employee, is a great task of every manager or employer of labour.

Insperity Blog

Very true, Dennis. Thank you for your insightful comment and have a great week ahead!

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