Managing Difficult Employees

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Health Assured team

26 March 2021

One of the most difficult things to manage in the workplace is attitude. If an employee is struggling with the workload or standard of their work, this is easy to identify and work on. Attitude is different.

An employee may be adequate, even good at their role. However, their skill set isn’t the only thing to consider. Attitude is an issue. Again, while not ideal, it can be easier to deal with an employee’s attitude if it doesn’t affect the rest of the team.

But what do you do when an attitude becomes toxic? How do you handle problematic staff members? Let’s look at what difficult employees can do to productivity, how to identify them, and how to manage disruptive employees.

Difficult staff members

So what is a difficult employee? It is behaviour that contradicts basic professional expectations that can cause significant negative consequences to the organisation and its people. Problematic employees can also increase an organisation's potential legal liability.

Employee morale, productivity and customer service levels are at their highest when employees work effectively as a team. This, unfortunately, is not always the case when employees display inappropriate and disruptive behaviours.

This is where difficult staff members differ from toxic ones.

Toxic people at work

There’s a difference between a difficult employee and a toxic one. A toxic employee causes not only harm but also spread their behaviour to others. There’s a pattern of de-energising, frustrating or putting down teammates. It’s not just that they are rude. The entire team suffers because of it.

Of course, your first step as a manager should be to avoid hiring toxic people in the first place, but once they’re on your team, it's hard to manage. Often the behaviour doesn’t run against anything legal, so going down a disciplinary route is difficult, especially if others in the organisation don’t agree that they have crossed a line.

This makes managing difficult employees and disruptive behaviours a key part of management. 

Identifying toxic employees

It’s fairly easy to spot employees who underperform, bicker with their co-workers or display blatantly unacceptable behaviours, like sexual harassment or stealing. Identifying and preventing more subtle toxic employee behaviours can be difficult.

There are several types of toxic employee, which will make it easier to identify and prioritise action.

Types of toxic employees 

There is a wide range of behaviours exhibited by employees that can create risks for other individuals and the organisation.

Some general categories and examples include:

  • The gossiper: an individual who habitually reveals personal or sensational information about others, whether factual or not.
  • The insubordinate: an employee's intentional refusal to obey an employer's lawful and reasonable orders.
  • The hostile one: hostile employees range from those who are passive-aggressive, to those who can be belligerent or even violent toward their co-workers.
  • The procrastinator: when distractions cause avoidance of work which affects the quality of work or the timeliness of it.
  • The excuse-maker: doesn’t accept responsibility for the quality of their work and blames people, processes or other factors.
  • The narcissist: an excellent performer, but doesn’t seem to recognise the value of a strong team.
  • The over-timer: someone who doesn’t have a healthy work-life balance, who will put unneeded pressure on co-workers.
  • The grump: the employee who complains about everything all the time. They don’t seem to be satisfied with anything and create negativity for your team.
  • The know-it-all: who won’t accept or even listen to a different point of view and won’t receive constructive feedback well.

Managing difficult employees and disruptive behaviors

How would you deal with a difficult member of staff? The first logical step on how to deal with a negative personality is through a disciplinary procedure. Especially if this is a toxic employee who affects their co-workers.

However, punishment is only part of the solution. If there is all punishment and no attempt to understand or help, it won’t solve the issue. This behaviour may simply move to a different employee if there is an underlying issue in the workplace. Then you’ll be dealing with a toxic personality multiple times instead of once.

It’s always best to have a personal discussion with them, let them know about their problematic reactions and try to understand the reasons behind their behaviour.

There may be issues with their workload, leading to them being overworked. They may have family problems or disruptive family members having a negative impact on them. Understanding these issues can allow you to support them with workplace counselling  or by changing workplace procedures.

How to get rid of toxic employees

When looking at how to handle a difficult employee, getting rid of toxic behaviour is the end goal. So you can fix the situation by simply solving the issues with their behaviour.

However, sometimes dealing with difficult employees becomes too much. This is when you need to look at dismissing the employee instead of managing them.

As long as you have shown a proper and fair grievance procedure, you will be within your rights to dismiss them.

Having a transparent process will help the rest of the workforce avoid suffering from reduced morale. Even if they’re a toxic employee, it can still affect co-workers when you dismiss someone.

Get support with employee wellbeing with Health Assured

Having a toxic employee on your team is more costly than just having an underperforming employee. Their behaviour affects your entire team and prevents you from hiring a better fit. Any employer dealing with disruptive employees will want to minimise the impacts.

But firing toxic employees isn’t always the best approach; you may get rid of the toxic behaviour and keep the person. People aren’t always aware of their awkward behaviour. That goes for everyone, not just your employees.

Create a healthy work environment and engage your team members by setting an example. One way you can do this is by having an Employee Assistance Programme, which improves wellbeing. Our EAP also comes with a wellbeing app, which employees can use whenever to access wellbeing resources.

If you need advice on how to manage a hostile employee through an EAP, call us today on 0844 891 0352.

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