Navigating Trouble: How to Handle Difficult Employees the Right Way


Maybe, it’s a good employee gone sour? Or, a new employee was surprisingly deceptive during the interview process?

Either way, difficult employees are bad news for business owners. These employees are toxic, and this toxicity can spread to increase turnover rates and lower productivity in the office as a whole.

Want to avoid the side effects of difficult employees? Below are some ways to handle difficult employees the right way.

  • Open Up to Perceptions and Feedback

It’s no surprise that people see the world differently. Problematic behaviors (e.g. poor attitude, undermining your authority, etc.) often stem as the result of your employees’ perception of their work environment. Your employees may be frustrated about the management style of the office or feel that something is unfair.

While you aren’t necessarily in the wrong, it’s a good idea to always be open to feedback. Create a safe space and genuinely listen to what your employees have to say. Sometimes, all it takes is a good listener to change the attitude of a difficult employee.

  • Critique Behavior, Not People

The primary goal when dealing with a difficult employee is to find a way to stop unacceptable behaviors and cultivate correct behaviors. To do so, it is crucial that you remain focused on critiquing behavior, and not personal factors. Your role is to support a positive change, and prejudice of personal factors has the opposite effect.

Difficult employees may not be aware of what they’re doing wrong. Bring up their behavior in a non-confrontational way. Cite specific examples of their negative behavior to help them understand the problem, but make it known that the situation is fixable.

  • Be Clear About Things

A lack of clarity is one of the biggest frustrations that employees get. So, be clear. When it comes to directions, use direct words and be clear about what you mean. For expectations and specific consequences, make sure your employees know what they are. Highlight objectives, timeframes, and consequences so you and your employees are on the same page.

  • Know When It’s Time to Let Go

Firing an employee is never the ideal choice, but sometimes, there’s nothing else we can do. If negative behaviors aren’t changing despite you reaching out and making an effort – you must know when to take drastic action. Of course, don’t make any rash decisions on the spot. Contact your HR department for advice and information regarding the policy to let people go.