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3 Types of Difficult Employees and How to Motivate Them

Dealing with difficult employees comes with the territory of managing a team. It’s not always top priority in the grand landscape of being manager, but it is essential to address a difficult employee from the get-go.

“We see a majority of managers spend almost 80% of their time dealing with difficult employees and only 20% on good employees,” says Michele Kauinui, Director of HR at simplicityHR by ALTRES.

Difficult employees can put a serious strain on a company’s time, resources, and in many ways nudge good employees to look for employment elsewhere. In a competitive hiring market, it’s critical to know how to manage difficult employees and understand their potential impact on your business.

3 Types of Difficult Employees and How to Motivate Them

Generally speaking, there are three camps a difficult employee may fall into. Here is how to identify these types of difficult employees and address them before it affects the rest of your workforce.

1. Highly skilled with a bad attitude

This type of employee brings value to the company in terms of productivity and revenue. However, they can be difficult to work with—they’re cutthroat, make their own rules, and don’t get along with the rest of the team.

This is one of the most difficult types of employees to deal with. On one hand, they’re performing the duties of the job exceptionally well. On the other hand, their poor attitude could be negatively impacting your entire company. This can include:

  • Damaging employee morale. Morale becomes low when employees are disrespected by their colleagues and their complaints are dismissed.
  • Hurting customer service. When employee morale is low customers may not receive the type of quality customer service that can make or break a business.
  • Losing the trust of other employees. The longer the bad behavior lingers, the greater the chances management will lose the trust of other employees, particularly the good ones who know they have other options.

How to handle: First, ask yourself how important this person is to your team. Although you may feel you can’t afford to lose this employee, could you afford to lose a few of your other employees in exchange?

If you choose to keep the employee, consider how to make the most of the situation. Is this person able to work effectively without interacting with others on a daily basis? If so, set them up for individual work that won’t disturb other employees. If not, what boundaries can you reinforce that allow all employees to feel safe and respected?

Regardless of the situation, the difficult employee must understand that there are consequences for their behavior and that you won’t tolerate it from them or any other employee.

2. Low performer with a great attitude

This difficult employee can usually be spotted within the first few weeks on the job. They’re friendly, always willing to jump on new projects, and bring positivity to the team. Unfortunately, their eagerness to do the job doesn’t translate into doing the job well. Projects seem to take them three times as long as their colleagues, or they sprint through tasks leaving a mass of sloppy mistakes in their wake.

How to handle: Fortunately, this type of employee is easy to work with because they want to be a good employee, they just need guidance. To get this employee to improve, designate another team member to mentor them. Without a guide showing them the ropes, they aren’t going to successfully gain the skills they need do the job well.

This is also a good time to assess whether or not the employee actually has the right skills for the job. Their over eagerness may have overshadowed the fact that they just aren’t cut out for the job. If you can’t afford to have anyone else step away from their duties to get this employee up to speed, you have to consider letting them go to find a different job opportunity. Without proper training, they’ll end up costing you time having to double check their work and fix their mistakes.

To avoid this situation in the future, consider running your applicants through a series of tests that analyze their skills. Companies like ALTRES Staffing can help test applicants on everything from Microsoft Office applications to basic filing, ensuring you get the most qualified candidates to choose from.

3. Average skills, indifferent attitude

This type of difficult employee can do the job correctly in a sufficient amount of time, but they won’t go above and beyond what is expected of them. This employee will perform the work they were hired for but will complain if you assign them a task that isn’t in their job description.

How to handle: First, make sure your expectations of the employee are reasonable. If you hired an HR Director to oversee the human resources department but you’re asking this person to also do mail runs and handle the company social media accounts, they would have good reason to tell you they don’t have the bandwidth to do so. But if that’s not the case, it’s time to have a talk with the employee.

Mediocre performers need more of a boost than others. Find out what motivates the employee. Is it praise, money, work-life balance, opportunities? By getting to know all of your employees on a deeper level, you can tailor relationships accordingly. Some employees will excel when they know they can climb the corporate ladder while others may just need to hear a thank you every now and then to feel appreciated.

How to manage difficult employees using MICRO-EVALUATIONS®

As an HR company with over 50 years of experience working with people, we’ve learned a thing or two about managing different work styles. When it comes to dealing with difficult employees, and in fact all employees, you really want to implement a long-term performance management solution.

The key is to commit to frequent check-ins, collaborative goal-setting, and ongoing coaching. This type of real-time performance assessment offers employees ongoing feedback, while giving employers the opportunity to address any issues as they arise. As noted above, this is critical when managing difficult employees, because negative behaviors that are allowed to continue can have unintended consequences.

The fundamental tool is very simple: diary-based note keeping. It takes about 60 seconds per employee, per week. Here is an easy 3-step process as explained in our free, downloadable white paper Winning Hawaii’s Talent War:

  1. Collect your notes and observations. Make it as low-tech or as high-tech as you like; whatever is easiest for you. A paper notebook, Word document, spreadsheet or note-taking app will do.
  2. Determine competencies. Figure out what you want to keep track of for each employee (performance, customer care, attitude etc.) and use a 1-5 scoring system where 1 is not up to expectation, 3 is satisfactory, and 5 exceeds expectation.
  3. Log regular updates. Take 30 to 60 seconds to reflect on each employee’s recent work. Set a reminder and do this weekly. A few words and a quick score become useful metrics when you have several months’ worth.

Customers of simplicityHR have the advantage of the MICRO-EVALUATIONS® module built into HR Symphony®. With built-in reminders, customized competencies and dynamic reporting, MICRO-EVALUATIONS® facilitate the conversations that engage employees and build on their strengths. Providing constant, effective feedback helps your employees understand how they’re doing every step of the way. MICRO-EVALUATIONS® also provide a searchable record that will help when it comes time to make decisions about the future of your workforce.

Managing difficult employees is a challenge every business owner and manager will eventually face. To learn more about how MICRO-EVALUATIONS® and other features of HR Symphony can help, fill out our contact form.

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