What are the Keys to Managing Difficult Employees?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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Employers may classify employees as "difficult" for many reasons. Typically, it's not their overall performance or productivity that's the problem, although it may be. A difficult employee may complain often about workplace practices, supervisors or co-workers or it could be the other staff members who have issues with a certain worker. Whatever the exact behavioral upset, effective keys to managing difficult employees include handling the situation promptly, using "I" rather than "you" statements and concentrating on developing a solution rather than focusing on the problem.

A completely smooth-running workplace is rare, even illusory. There are bound to be behavioral difficulties that affect other workers no matter what level of position they hold in a company. A common mistake made by many managers is to dismiss small issues or complaints about an employee being difficult. Such managers may believe the difficulties are a result of personality clashes between co-workers or that small behavioral problems will likely go away on their own. However, managing difficult employees efficiently means correcting even small issues before they can turn into bigger ones that end up involving more workers and take away time from the actual work process.


The manager of the employee deemed as being difficult should have a meeting with that person as soon as possible. In the meeting, the manager should use "I" statements that address the behavior rather than "you" remarks that focus blame on the employee. For example, rather than saying "You haven't been following company policy," the manage should begin with something like "I need to have everyone following company policy." One of the most successful keys to managing difficult employees is to involve them in solving the problem.

For instance, the manager may ask him or her what the best way is to make sure that all workers are following company policy on the particular issue. The discussion can then segue into a constructive problem solving session. A plan for correcting the behavior should then be worked out with the difficult employee.

The most important of the keys for managing difficult employees is to listen to them. If the worker starts to become defensive or unresponsive, the manager can then employ an active listening strategy. This means that the employer could say something like "I really want to hear your side of this issue. Tell me what you think" to start the difficult employee talking. It's important that the manager not interrupt. Instead, taking notes and then discussing the points with the employee in the context of the corrective plan can end the discussion on a positive, constructive level.


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Post 1

When management ignores complaints about difficult employees, it puts morale in the toilet. If an employee is someone everyone in the department dreads dealing with, it's time for management to step in.

"I" statements are fine, when they are applicable. Sometimes, however, a manager simply has to say, "Look, I've heard what you say to other employees and I've had complaints from other employees. Stop browbeating your co-workers and get that chip off your shoulder. Otherwise, we'll talk about sending you to anger management." I say this because verbal abuse is the most common problem managers face concerning difficult employees.

People will deal with others not doing their jobs more easily than someone who dishes out the verbal venom.


have to address this issue in particular, in a prompt manner, or people are going to start becoming angry in a hurry. When that happens, they start looking for other jobs.

When the difficult employee in my office finally found another job, it was three months before I stopped jumping when I heard footsteps behind me. I had PTSD from dealing with that woman, I swear!

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