Working with a difficult employee can bring down anyone’s spirit. But for a manager, bad employees raise an additional problem beyond unpleasantness at work — because it’s their job to intervene and come up with a solution.
What is the best approach when an employee is idle, impolite or just plain incompetent?
1. Don’t overlook the problem. Problem employees are not going to suddenly fix themselves overnight. The employee may not even be aware that he or she is difficult, especially if the other workers are enduring it in silence. That’s why it’s important to take action as soon as possible. Otherwise, it will only get worse.
2. Talk to them one-on-one. First, ideally a manager needs to observe the bad behaviour firsthand. Make sure you understand fully what the problem is that the worker needs to address and that you have solid examples to back it up. Second, approach the employee individually to discuss it. Describe the incidents you have observed — or that have been reported to you — and explain openly (1) what the problems are and (2) a few real-life solutions. Don’t simply tell an employee to start arriving on time — give them ideas for how to pull it off. Suggest a new alarm clock, a better sleep regimen, or an alternate route to work.
3. Reinforce positive behaviours. Hopefully the employee will take to heart what you have told them. But no matter what happens after the initial meeting, be sure to follow up with them. Tell them what you’re noticing about their performance now compared to before. Is the employee improving? Getting worse? Acting exactly the same? Kindly let them know.
4. Sack as a last resort. If an employee refuses to amend bad behaviour, and his or her poor attitude is negatively affecting the other workers or the customers, termination may be your only remaining option. But before you get to that point, try repeating the above steps as many times as necessary. Make sure you give the employee enough time to work on the issues. But if you don’t see any results, letting the employee go may be best for the company.