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Communicating with difficult workers – and how to deal with them

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 — May 12th, 2021

Communicating with difficult workers – and how to deal with them

In an ideal world, we’d love to provide the best working environment for our employees.

Where they can work comfortably and happily grow their career. But eventually, you will be met with negative circumstances like poor behaviour and difficult workers.

It is vital that you show leadership here and have a solid work policy for addressing misbehaviour—and the consequences that follow.

Employers must tackle poor behaviour from workers straight on. And monitor how their conduct and actions are affecting business productivity.

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If their behaviour does not change after your feedback, you may need to follow-through with proper disciplinary actions.

Addressing behavioural issues can be a complicated and sensitive process for employers. But it’s an unavoidable part of business.

So, seek HR advice and address it right away.

Here are six steps on how you can manage difficult workers and unacceptable behaviour.

1. Don’t ignore the problem

Ignoring a problem will only allow it to fester and grow. You cannot allow negative behaviour to continue once it’s brought to your attention.

If ignored, the situation could affect the morale and culture of your entire business. Other employees could imitate poor attitudes and approach others, and even clients, in the same insolent manner.

You should aim to nip the problem in the bud, by addressing the problem quickly and effectively.

2. Assess the behaviour, not the person

How you interact with the employee in question is crucial. When addressing a difficult employee, take care not to make the discussion overly personal or emotional.

Remember that you are not trying to start a confrontation, but rather finding a solution for their behaviour.

Try to create a comfortable and professional environment where the worker feels able to speak about their position. Their poor attitude and actions could derive from personal problems, workplace misunderstandings, or even from acting out of fear or confusion.

Your principal aim is to display that you care for them, but also need to reach a resolution.

3. Open communication

It’s essential that you keep open channels of communication with all employees, especially difficult ones. To fully understand where the negative attitude stems from, listen to them and acknowledge their opinions.

Sometimes the simple act of listening can really help employees feel comfortable enough to open up about their behaviour.

4. Have solid behavioural policies

Sometimes an employer must relay tough feedback to difficult employees. It’s not always accepted, and it sure isn’t easy to do.

But it’s vital that you show clear examples of their misbehaviour. Display how their actions are violating your behavioural work policy. Explain that it is unacceptable and needs to stop, or consequences will follow.

Once you’ve highlighted specific examples of their misconduct, the employee should recognize and work to solve their issues.

It’s recommended that you also discuss the situation with your HR department. They can offer advice and guidance on how to deal with the situation professionally.

They may advise you to document the incident in misconduct reports—which can stand as evidence should the situation be raised as a future tribunal claim.

5. Work on improving together

Once you have determined the problem, discuss what support the employee needs from you to help improve their behaviour.

Remind the employees that part of their work performance is measured by how they contribute to business success. So, any ideas on personal improvement should be realistic, helpful, and objective.

You can introduce employee assistance programmes, behavioural workshops, and performance coaching to further support improvement.

6. Monitor their performance

After you have held discussions with the employee, implement a clear plan of action for monitoring their progress.

Create a plan with measurable goals for improving their behaviour and monitor performance. You should:

  • Set a clear timeframe for completing targets and outline what the employee needs from you to help them improve.
  • Specify consequences for violating behaviour policies. (Like formal warnings, losing bonuses/promotions, even contract termination).
  • Allow the employee a reasonable amount of time to correct their behaviour. Monitor their progress and note any issues or relapses.
  • Once they have passed the timeframe for their plan, schedule an evaluation meeting with them to discuss their progression.

A difficult employee can create a hostile and draining atmosphere in the workplace. As a manager, owner, or HR leader, you should approach the individual in the most effective and appropriate manner.

Always seek HR advice on how to deal with negative workplace behaviour effectively.

They can help determine when and what type of corrective actions you should take. Whether it’s a transfer, demotion, or even contract termination.

Of course, these are last-resort measures for dealing with difficult workers. The underlying goal for you is to work through misbehaviour incidents and reach a resolution—that appeases you, the employee, and the business.

Main blog image by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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