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Dealing with Difficult Staff

By: Scott McBride - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Difficult Staff Staff Management

There will always be difficult staff and it is a manager’s job to deal with them. It is a problem that most managers will have to face during their careers and one that will only get worse if left unchecked.

A manager should act quickly when dealing with difficult people, as the longer inappropriate behaviour is allowed to continue, the harder it will be to change or stop it. Even so, a manager must take time to think before they act. Evaluate the situation and make sure any action taken will not make the problem worse.

Of course, most employees can be difficult from time to time, perhaps caused by stress at work or at home, but some employees are difficult more often than others. It is not always the least-productive employees who are the difficult ones either, so each time a problem arises, evaluate it as the unique dilemma that it is.

Deal With Facts

Effective staff management means dealing with facts and not gossip or rumours. Employees who spread gossip are a problem in their own right, so unless a manager has seen the inappropriate behaviour with their own eyes, they should investigate. Question those reported to be involved and collect all the facts before taking action.

Unless a manager can stay calm and impartial, they risk adding to the tension and becoming part of the problem. Before confronting difficult staff, select a quiet, private place and ensure there will be no interruptions. Decide whether another company representative, such as someone from human resources, should be present.

It is never pleasant having to deal with problem staff, but it is an important part of a manager’s job so do not put it off. Remember the aim is to find a solution, not to win an argument, so try to diffuse any tension and deal with the behaviour rather than the person.

Highlight The Positive

A manager should try to highlight the positive actions they would like to see difficult staff take, rather than focus on the inappropriate behaviour that has been prevalent, especially when dealing with a simple reliability problem. For instance, rather than criticise difficult staff for being late, stress the need for every team member to get to work on time in order to meet goals.

Do not assume that there is bad intent behind inappropriate behaviour. It may be the result of personal problems, a lack of motivation or confusion. If a manager can find out the real source of the problem, they have a much better chance of finding a solution, so talk to problem staff and listen to what they say. Stay calm, positive, impartial and non-judgmental, but ask leading questions that cannot be answered in one or two words.

Do not interrupt, but when the chance presents itself, summarise what the employee has said. This will show difficult staff that their manager is listening to them and understands their point of view, even if they do not necessarily agree with it.

Don’t Expect Instant Results

It is sound staff management to allow difficult people to come up with a solution to the problem. If at least partially responsible for developing a solution, employees are far more likely to stand by it. Some minor reliability problems can be resolved with a simple chat, but more complicated difficulties may need more work, so be patient and do not always expect instant results. Aim for continuous improvement rather than instant success.

When difficult employees are not willing to change their behaviour, a manager may need to begin termination procedures in accordance with the company's policies. It is just as important to refer an employee to others if they have underlying issues beyond the manager’s capabilities.

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