We could make this a long article or a very short one. In the world of business, you'll find many people who tell you that the best way to deal with a difficult employee is to fire them and hire someone else. That's certainly one way of solving the problem, but it means throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It's an unfortunate truth that difficult employees are often also our most gifted members of staff. We just wish we could find a way to get the best out of them without handling the problems that they bring.
Only you can decide what your tolerance level is for a difficult employee, and how much you're willing to put up with in return for the skills and benefits that they bring to your business. There are certainly a few strategies you can employ to try and improve the situation, though - so if you think the good in your difficult employee might outweigh the bad, don't say goodbye to them until you've given these techniques a try.
Give Detailed Feedback
Before you roll your eyes and shake your head, and consider drawing up your employee's termination papers, be honest with yourself. Have you ever actually told your employee that they're difficult? Is it possible that they're not even aware that they're being difficult? There are many reasons why it's important to give your employees feedback on a regular basis, but the biggest is that without it, it's impossible for them to improve their behavior. Also, note that feedback isn't just about telling them what they've done wrong - it's also about telling them what your expectations are about doing things right. Feedback should always be constructive, and it should always end with an objective. That gives your employee a clear framework to operate within.
Focus On The ‘Why’
Is your employee’s problematic behavior a new thing, or has it always been there? If it’s a recent development, then something has obviously changed. You might suspect that they’ve become complacent, or that they have a personality clash with someone that they’re working closely with, but you don’t know anything for sure until you’ve had a conversation with them. Problems at home can and do frequently affect the quality of someone's work and the way they interact with their colleagues. Take them aside, make it clear that you're worried about them because you've noticed a series of problems, and ask them openly what's going on. Let them tell you. If they insist nothing's wrong, then you can look at disciplinary options, but you may find out that something's happening 'behind the scenes' of their life.
Make Full Records
A difficult employee isn't likely to accept or agree that they're a difficult employee. If you put it to them that they've become a problem, they're likely to ask for evidence of it. That's why every single instance of problematic behavior has to be carefully logged and recorded. Not only will this make it easier for you to justify firing them if it comes to that, but it will also help them to understand why you've had to address the issue with them in the first place. A single instance of troublesome behavior is hard to connect to a wider issue unless you have evidence of the wider issue. So long as you have hard evidence, nobody can argue with you.
Consider Whether Their Position Is Right For Them
Sometimes an employee is difficult because they're a maverick. They have exceptional skills in one area of their job, but not in others. They may even find the other areas of their role boring, frustrating, or unnecessary. If you believe that they have skills that you desire, ask yourself if the problem might be yours rather than theirs. Are you providing them with the right conditions in which to thrive? Is there another position within your company that might be better suited to their talents? Have they been in their current role for too long? As the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest. If you've decided that this employee is worth keeping, it will benefit both you and them to put them in a position where they can serve you and your company best.
Consult With A Third Party
As much as we all try to stay impartial, the information we hear can cloud our judgment of a person or situation when it's one-sided. If all you've been fed is negative reports about a person's conduct, you're likely to believe that they're problematic even if you've seen no direct evidence of it yourself. That might mean that you're no longer an impartial judge. Don't make decisions about difficult employees on your own. Consult with your HR department. Ask other employees for their own experiences of working with this person. Are the reports of their undesirable behavior coming in from everybody, or just one or two people who might have an ax to grind? It never hurts to get perspective - and in many cases, it actually helps a lot.
Be Persistent And Consistent
No matter what you do about a difficult employee, you have to be consistent in the way that you deal with them, and persistent in the way that you follow up on your methods. You can't turn a blind eye to their behavior one day because they've performed well for you, and then jump on them the next day because they've underperformed. Persistence breeds success in almost all walks of life. Think about the way you'd play Fluffy Favourites UK slot on an online slots website. Would you walk away if you'd placed one bet and won nothing? Of course you wouldn't - that's not how online slots work, and you'd simply be wasting your money. Difficult, maverick employees are often every bit as complex and unknowable as the mathematics that drives those online slots games, but every bit as rewarding if you can get them to work for you. Establish a clear method for dealing with them, follow it every time, and approach them the same way whether they've made you ten thousand dollars today, or none at all. That's the only way to be fair.
If all of the above fails and the employee is still difficult and making life hard for you, then termination may be the only option - but at least you can’t say you didn’t try, and you can wave goodbye to them without regrets.