In the course of work duty, as an employer/ HR manager, you will inevitably run into a difficult employee or someone who is simply unproductive. This can be someone who fails to perform at the level that they are being compensated or a person who is constantly late and always has an excuse. This behaviour is simply unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Simply because they  will end up costing the company time and resources in an effort to make up for lost time and work that is not up to standard. Managing difficult employees can be a very sensitive issue and so you must find the best approach to handle the situation. In this article we’ll look at some of the ways in which you can begin dealing with difficult employees.


The best way to deal with a difficult employee is to promptly call a meeting with them and discuss their behaviour. Low productivity, missed deadlines and even missed hiring opportunities as a result of laziness, tardiness or inability to work with others eventually negatively impacts the company. Use this time to explain to them the cost of their behaviour and the impact it has on their colleagues as well as the company. When a difficult employee understands what is at stake they are then able to understand the need for a change in their behaviour and why a particular cause of action is taken.


No one, not even a difficult employee, wants to deal with the humiliation of being called out publicly which is why it’s best to schedule a private meeting with. This will enable them to talk freely about the issue without feeling observed. Sometimes an employee’s behaviour could be a result of various issues like poor mental health, family problems or even alcohol and substance abuse. Talking to them privately and opening up an avenue for them to talk about the issues that may be causing their poor work performance will help both parties find a solution. In many cases once the root of the problem is adressed the employee’s entire attitude shifts and they are back to being productive and get on well with their colleagues. This is why it is important for companies to have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to deal with such matters (see article on Employee Assistance Programs).


Once you’ve spoken to your employee, it is important to set expectations and consequences for failing to adhere to these expectations. Give a specific timeline by which the employee’s behaviour must change and be sure to give them adequate time to implement these changes. It is important to note that consequences do not mean threatening your employee with job termination if their behaviour does not change. You should however, ensure that your employee is aware of the repercussions that they could face if they do not change in the agreed upon time. These consequences could be in the form of a formal warning letter, a demotion or dismissal as a last resort.


While your employee is working towards improving their behaviour, ensure that you check up on their progress regularly. This will hold them accountable and help them stay on track. Be sure to document each problem you have with an employee, the disciplinary measures taken as well as the resources you connected them with in order to help them improve. This is important because in some cases an employee’s behaviour might lead to the filing of legal action and this documentation will be useful.


In some cases, an employee will simply not be able to comply with the company’s code of conduct despite your best efforts. No employer wants to fire their employees however in some cases contract termination is the best and only option. Not everyone is capable of change and keeping a difficult/ disruptive employee will only serve to hurt the company in the long run. If you have gone through the company disciplinary process in order to find a solution and even carried out an intervention then it may be time to cut your losses and let the employee go.

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