Dealing with difficult employees can be frustrating. It's also one of the least satisfying parts of being a business owner. The unfortunate truth is that the longer you are in business and the more your enterprise grows, the more likely it is that you will encounter a problem employee.

Difficult people who do not behave in a professional and responsible way in the workplace can have a negative impact on everyone around them. Employees who bring their bad attitudes to work can wreak havoc on an otherwise congenial and productive company culture. One employee's behavior can negatively impact the entire work environment, creating disruption and causing poor performance and disengagement in the other team members.

This article will cover ways you can recognize and address the root cause of a toxic employee's behavior so that you can get your company and the rest of the team back on track.

The Importance of Dealing With Difficult Employees Effectively

Your people represent your business. Even one employee exhibiting bad behavior at the workplace can disrupt workflow and cause performance issues across the board. A negative employee can also damage your brand and, ultimately, your bottom line. Because employee attitude and behavior impact your business image, unless and until you take affirmative steps to remedy a toxic situation, your business will suffer.

Tips for Dealing With Difficult Employees

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with employees who exhibit negative behavior in the workplace. The following tips can help you deal with situations involving difficult employees.

Hear All Sides of the Story

A good manager always presents themself as a calming influence. Your role - as a business owner or manager - is to model appropriate behavior and deal with discourse in a fair and reasonable manner. It's also important that you present a fair and balanced approach to conflict.

Take your time to gather information about all the potential causes of any workplace friction. As is the case with all relationships - whether in the workplace or at home - there's always going to be more than one side to a story. It's important that you listen to everyone involved and try to look at what's going on from a whole team perspective.

Listen Objectively to All

Don't rush to judgment or lose your objectivity. Business leaders, like everyone else, enter conflict situations with certain biases. As long as you keep an open mind, you'll be able to deal with a difficult situation in a fair and equitable manner. If you let your own biases interfere with finding a resolution, you could end up making the problem worse.

Document Issues

Precise record-keeping is very important when dealing with any human resources (HR) issues, but it's especially vital when dealing with or disciplining a difficult employee.

Be sure to document any issues or problems with employee behavior you witness, as well as any behaviors or incidents reported to you. Write down as many details of the events and reports you receive as you can, including the date of the conversations and/or incidents. This documentation will not only help you remember details, but it's also important should you need evidence in any future actions for wrongful termination brought by the employee.

Meet With the Employee in Private

Before taking any action or making any judgments, meet with the employee in private for a one-on-one conversation.

Begin what's likely to be a difficult conversation with some positive reinforcement. Point out the reasons you want to resolve the issue, emphasizing how the employee's contributions to the company are valuable and appreciated. Follow this positive opening with specific examples of the undesirable behavior you need to address. Be clear and specific when describing the behavior. Give concrete examples and then explain why the behavior is not appropriate.

Be open to the possibility that the staff member is either not aware of their disruptive behavior or doesn't see the issue in the same way that others do. For instance, it might be that the employee's personal problems are spilling over into their workplace relationships. They might be experiencing burnout or may have mental health issues that need to be addressed. It's also possible that the employee is feeling stuck or unappreciated in their current role.

Offer help if you can. You might want to offer them the option of taking some personal time to deal with their personal issues. Perhaps you can send them to a training program or offer other ways to support their ability to manage their job and personal life effectively.

Regardless of how you work to resolve the issue with them, make sure they understand that their behavior has to change.

Set Clear Goals for Improvement

If you and the employee can reach an agreement on the problem and how to resolve it, set clear goals for improvement. Turn these goals into a written action plan that you create together. Include the next steps that the employee needs to take, a time frame for the steps to be completed, and a mechanism for evaluating progress. Make sure the employee is involved in the creation of the plan and that everyone concerned has buy-in. Then, have the employee sign the action plan as evidence of their agreement.

Set Clear Consequences

The employee improvement plan needs to do more than set expectations for employee performance and behavior. It also needs to set clear consequences in the event that expectations are not met. While nobody wants to see a team member fail, closing your eyes to that possibility is not realistic.

Be specific about what the employee can expect if they don't change. This could include a written warning, a demotion and pay cut, foregoing a bonus or even letting the employee go.

Monitor and Praise Employee Progress

Once you have assessed the situation and you and the employee have agreed on a clear pathway to resolving the problem, you can move into the monitoring phase. Be sure to check in with the employee regularly, paying close attention to the team member's progress. Offer praise when you see improvement. Success breeds success, and positive reinforcement in these types of situations can go a long way in fostering even more improvement.

Conversely, you need to acknowledge when progress is not occurring. Let the employee know if they are not meeting expectations, and do your best to coach them toward improvement. Be sure to document any backsliding in case future corrective actions have to be taken.

Know When It's Reasonable to Terminate

Not every difficult employee situation is going to be resolved to the satisfaction of all involved. There are going to be times when there's no alternative other than letting the employee go. At the end of the day, the well-being of your other staff members and the health of the company as a whole must take precedence. Be prepared to acknowledge the fact that your company and the employee may need to part ways.

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Notice to the Reader

The content within this article is meant to be used as general guidelines and may not apply to your specific situation. Always consult with a human resources or legal professional when addressing any sensitive personnel issues to ensure you're meeting all HR standards and complying with all applicable employment laws and regulations.