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Managing a difficult employee is an issue that most employers will have to navigate as their business grows. Recruiting good staff is not easy, and sometimes an employee simply does not gel with other staff in your business. Other times, an employee is great, but something happens – whether in their personal life or elsewhere – and they become an issue that requires managing. This article sets out some key concepts for managing employees in this situation and tips on resolving what can be an awkward and tricky issue.

Understanding the Problem

A range of situations can explain why an employee is a difficult presence in the workplace, particularly if they were previously a happy and productive team member. It is worth doing some background work, if possible, to understand what is driving the difficulty. For example, you might notice some hostility between two employees. In that case, you should speak to other staff to understand any fights or issues between employees

There are also other considerations to note. The employee in question might be going through a divorce, mental health issue or some other kind of serious strain in their personal life. It is essential to be aware of these possibilities. Importantly, do not jump to conclusions that the employee will always be a problem for your workplace. 

One of the most productive things you can do to resolve the issue is covertly offering the employee access to counselling or time off. The solution you offer will depend on what exactly the issue is. Hence, it is essential to have a conversation with the employee in question, amongst other staff, to understand the problem. 

Speaking to the Employee

In a surprising number of cases, the employee will not be aware that they are causing issues in the workplace or being perceived as difficult by other staff members. Just as a product of their character, some people can be oblivious to the broader impact of their actions. This can especially be the case if the person thinks they are joking around or consider themselves to be the life of the party at work.

In these circumstances, you should consider giving the employee direct and honest feedback. The feedback should outline the issues they are posing at work, whether offending other team members or preventing people from doing their work productively. Be clear about your expectations and give the employee a fair chance to change their behaviour. An informal approach can achieve instant changes. This is especially true in situations where the employee may not otherwise be aware of their effect on others. 

Document All Steps Taken

Sometimes, a difficult employee can prove to be a serious management issue. Suppose they do not change their behaviour despite feedback and instructions to do so. In that case, you may need to consider further steps, particularly if the employee’s actions affect other members of staff. You have broader responsibilities to protect other employees in your business. 

The correct process depends on the nature of the employee’s actions. It may be worthwhile to seek legal advice to ascertain a reasonable process. However, one general piece of advice is to document everything that happens with the employee, including steps (informal and formal) you take to improve the situation with the employee. Record any complaints made about the employee and what the employee’s responses to your feedback are. These records may be relevant and vital to show a pattern of behaviour with the employee if you have to go down a formal process later on.

Key Takeaways

Managing a difficult employee can take patience and a willingness to be empathetic and understand the broader reasons behind the employee’s actions. A helpful starting point is to tell the employee what effect they have on the other staff members. Hopefully, this conversation can immediately change their behaviour. Otherwise, document your interactions with the employee. You may need to consider more formal processes if their behaviour does not change. 

If you want to know more about managing a difficult employee, contact LegalVision’s employment lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the first step you should take with a difficult employee?

When managing a difficult employee, the first step is trying to understand the whole picture. This process includes speaking to other staff and getting all the facts about the employee and their impact on others, especially if there have been complaints. Get the complete picture before diving in to try to resolve the problem directly.

Should you document the issues with a difficult employee?

Yes, it is always a good idea to document the issues and any interactions you have with a difficult employee. Documentation is still useful, even if the employee’s behaviour improves drastically and no formal process is required, at least for the foreseeable future.

Is a misconduct process appropriate for a difficult employee?

Yes, misconduct can be the right process to follow if an employee behaves inappropriately, offensively or in a harmful way. However, getting legal advice if you are unsure is a good idea in these circumstances.

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