5 Mistakes of Dealing with Difficult Employees

Learn what not to do when dealing with difficult employees with these 5 common mistakes.



You’ve heard the complaints about that “one employee” but you keep putting them off. After all, you’re a manager; you have higher priorities to take care of rather than dealing with difficult employees at work… right?

Not according to Dr. David G. Javitch, organizational psychologist and leadership specialist. He says, “When dealing with problematic employees, productivity decreases, frustrations rise, morale goes down and customers and vendors get upset.” As you make plans to confront the problem, avoid these five mistakes:

1. Ignoring the problem

According to Dr. Javitch, “Ignoring a problematic staffer could jeopardize the success of the entire organization.” Difficult people don’t just go away; in fact, many times they are ignorant to there being a problem. As tedious as it may be, managers may need to provide great detail in specifying what the problem behavior(s) is for the problematic employee to understand.

2. Holding a group meeting to discuss appropriate work behavior.

Come on, we all know who the perpetrator is – and chances are, that person will be busy texting or day dreaming in the group meeting to catch that there’s even a problem. If you know who may be at fault, meet with him or her individually, and do so as soon as possible to avoid any escalating problems.

3. Believing it’s all one person’s fault.

The old adage “there are two sides to every story” holds true, even with consistent problem makers. Managers, do your homework: observe the employees’ behaviors and conduct interviews with those who interact with the employee regularly (coworkers, customers, vendors, etc). Gather your facts and prepare specific examples. Describe the problematic behavior(s) and then allow the employee to respond. Perhaps this person is a relationship-oriented person working with a task-oriented coworker. Sincerely try to understand the employee’s perspective; you never know what you might discover!

4. Assuming that one meeting will solve the problem.

Simply thanking the employee for coming in to meet with you doesn’t quite cut it. Part of a manager’s job is to coach employees. Provide examples of more appropriate behaviors and, depending on the severity, try role-playing. Employees who want to stay within your organization will be coachable. Allow the employee time to adopt their new behaviors at work and give regular feedback, particularly emphasizing any positive improvements.

5. Being afraid to fire a truly problematic employee.

At the end of the day, an employee who causes real problems and who is not coachable or showing improvement will continuously drain productivity and morale. Show your well-performing employees that management won’t tolerate truly egregious behavior. Of course, maintain all documentation of performance problems, warnings, and meetings with the difficult employee.

You have invested significant time, energy, and resources into developing a successful business. Avoid allowing problematic employees to endanger what you have worked so hard to build by negatively impacting you or your valued employees. For more management tips, please contact your Stratus.hr Rep.

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