Posted on: September 1, 2014

Bad Apple: Dealing with a Difficult Employee

Bad Apple: Dealing with a Difficult Employee
Every employer’s ultimate goal is to attract and retain valuable employees in their workforce through acquisition of the right talents that would help them attain their strategic objectives. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some employees may end up exhibiting counterproductive behavior, which could hinder the company’s productivity as well as interfere with interpersonal relationships with fellow employees. So what should an HR Manager do in such a situation?
If you look at this list, you would agree that some of them may appear to be difficult depending on the circumstances. Since dealing with difficult employees is not as simple as it sounds, we would need to look at several factors, which will help us shed some light on steps that will result in a positive outcome for the company, the employee, and the co-workers.
Address the situation using the following steps:
1. Open a line of communication with the employee to investigate fully the nature of the problem. At this point, the policies of the organization will be revisited to ensure that the employee is on the same page with acceptable behavior, rules and regulations, as well as the strategic goal of the company. Employees may become unhappy if they are not linking their responsibilities to the goals of the organization and also their responsibilities are not challenging or their talents not fully utilized. This may result in boredom and we know that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. Should such a situation arise, the HR Manager should address it right away so that it doesn’t get out of hand. It would be good to have a one-on-one with the employee. Also, the employee may prefer to discuss the issue with their own peers, and there has been proven success in engaging a respected co-worker to speak to a difficult employee.
2. Plan a course of action based on the findings in the first step. One of the actions would be to assign a mentor to the employee that seems to be struggling with work or interactions with his/her team members. A mentor should also be able to assist the employee with both personal and company goals. An employee may engage in counterproductive behavior due to inadequate knowledge and experience required to successfully complete their daily tasks. If this is the case, the employee should be assigned to take appropriate training programs to enhance their skills and competencies.  The HR manager would need to properly look into the circumstances surrounding the situation and address them, making sure to separate opinion from actual behavior.
3.Reach a positive outcome/resolution that will benefit the company, the employee, and co-workers. The decision has to be closely monitored to ensure desired results. If after applying the interventions mentioned in step #2 above the problem still persists, disciplinary action may be considered.
If the employee’s misconduct is considered serious in nature, it may lead to immediate discharge.  Otherwise for minor offenses, HR may impose several levels of penalties as follows:
– First offense—oral warning
– Second offense—written warning
– Third offense—second written warning and suspension without pay
– Fourth offense—termination
In summary, the key is not only to address the person’s behavior but also what may have contributed to the employee acting in an unfavorable manner. Often times the so-called “difficult employee” may actually be the most creative in the company. Companies want to retain their most valuable employees, and employees, on the other hand, do not wish to lose their jobs.
  • The hostile worker, who is verbally abusive and destructive
  • The whiner, who complains just about everything
  • The pessimist, who never believes there will be any good outcome and at such can affect others with his negativity
  • The sniper, who constantly criticizes others
  • The impatient, who doesn’t care about policies and procedures
  • The know-it-all, very smart and an expert in his field but can be very exasperating
  • The arrogant worker, who will never admit that he doesn’t really know anything
  • The indecisive worker takes too long to make a decision, thereby causing unnecessary delay in productivity
  • The silent employee takes an offensive position and simply does not contribute to any decision
  • The “yes” worker that will agree to anything without really intending to carry it out

Written by Dr. Victoria Ashiru, Professor at the VIU School of Business.