Effectively managing difficult employees can be a challenging prospect. Whether it is the employee who is consistently late, who complains incessantly or who seems to constantly upset their co-workers, every company must deal with difficult employees.

These situations drain management’s time and energy, impact on the morale of co-workers and interfere with overall workplace productivity. The key to effectively addressing such situations begins with an understanding of the issues and a clear identification of the actual source of the problem.

Even the best employee can have an off-day (or week, or month). Before deciding if an employee is difficult, managers must first step back and neutrally assess the situation. The first question to ask is whether the behaviour is critical enough to implement a formal HR process. Another important concept to consider is that ‘different’ does not equal ‘difficult’. There will always be employees that a manager does not gel with, understand or even like. However, this is not enough to deem an employee difficult. To constitute a “difficult employee”, behaviour must exceed acceptable standards, policies and procedures or interfere with productivity.

Define the Problem

When addressing the problems created by difficult employees, the focus should always be on job performance. It is management’s duty to clearly explain why the issue is a problem, and how the problem is adversely impacting the company. At this stage it may be useful to refer to the employee’s job description and the company handbook.

Clarify Roles

It is important that both the manager and employee are absolutely clear on individual roles. The manager’s role is to ensure business success by leading, coaching and supporting employees. The employee’s role is to meet predefined performance and behaviour standards, and function as a cooperative team member. A key concept that employees must grasp is that it is not only the level of their performance that is important, but also how their performance affects the functioning of their team, department and the company overall.

Identify Expectations

This is where the manager should clarify four things – the employee’s performance, responsibilities, impact of their behaviour and the consequences if it doesn’t change. A follow up and ongoing review should be scheduled and regular updates between the manager and the employee will help to move things forward and get the employee back on track.