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How to handle difficult staff - The 10-step no-fuss method

Posted in Employers

Posted by Joanne Caine
Published on 07 May, 2019

Left to their own devices, difficult staff can quickly turn your workplace toxic. Whether your employee is deliberately playing up or simply doesn’t realise how disruptive their behaviour has become, here are ten steps to tackle the problem - with your professional integrity enhanced.

Sigh. Is someone disrupting the workplace again? It’s a frustrating problem to deal with. But deal with it you must. Difficult staff are a curse to productivity. They puncture morale. And they can derail your team in a flash. Your workplace should be somewhere that your staff feel happy and engaged and cohesive, not infuriated by the colleagues who create tension and are magnetically attracted to drama. 

Difficult staff come in many guises. The rebellious non-conformists. The loose-lipped gossipers. The terminal procrastinators. The always-know-betters. The office clowns who care more about popularity than productivity. The over-promisers. The always-laters and the to-do list haters. Yet their behaviour - and the problems it causes - can almost always be resolved tactfully.

Just follow these 10 simple steps for how to handle difficult staff:

  1. Stop sitting on your hands

As a manager or HR manager, the need to be assertive comes with the territory. Yes, dealing with problem staff can be difficult. (Why can’t your staff just manage themselves?) But this is a problem that probably won’t go away on its own. Failure to take action could do more damage to your workplace morale than you realise. Have the courage to act decisively.

  1. Remember that you are a professional

Under no circumstances should you call out staff in front of their colleagues. Doing so could kill their motivation and do serious damage to your reputation in the eyes of other staff too. Take them out for a coffee. Go to your office. Use the meeting room. Privacy is the name of the game.

  1. Sniff out the facts

With ‘fake news’ the political term du jour, this point feels especially important. Try to get the full picture before you do anything too drastic. Is this person genuinely being disruptive? Or is this situation just a silly disagreement that’s been blown out of proportion? You may need to talk to a number of staff to get the perspective you need.

  1. Listen

Respect that - no matter how disruptive they may be - your employee is a professional. A human. They are lumbered with a challenging set of anxieties and neuroses and stresses and pressures, just like the rest of us. The most productive way to resolve tension is collaboratively. So go out of your way to listen to their side of the story. Maybe their behaviour is born from a desire to take on more responsibility. Perhaps they are having difficulties in their personal life. If you don’t listen, you’re shooting in the dark which is potentially dangerous.  

  1. Be constructive

There are always exceptions, but digging someone out and giving them the hairdryer treatment doesn’t tend to get results. Unless your objective is to take a sledgehammer to motivation and morale. Be as constructive as possible in your criticism. It will be far better for your business long-term.

  1. Make them feel wanted

Staff perform best when they feel they are contributing to a common goal. Nobody wants to work in a job where their efforts are in vain. So remind your troublesome employee of the qualities that made you hire them in the first place. Explain what they are good at and why you value it.  Make them feel confident that you have faith in their abilities. They’re not useless; their current behaviour just needs tweaking. 

  1. Make measurable action plans

You need a strategy for change. Things don’t just happen. Behaviour is most likely to improve if you agree targets and timeframes with one another. Set a date to review progress and give your employee something to aim towards.

  1. Provide incentives and reward progress

There’s nothing wrong with dangling a carrot to incentivise improved behaviour. But be careful that you don’t inadvertently frustrate the rest of your staff. You could have a mutiny on your hands if it looks like you are rewarding the worst performers while the efforts of your best staff go unnoticed. Team rewards or tiered rewards could be the best way forward.

  1. Encourage them to take a break

If your employee continues to be disruptive, consider asking them to take a break. Time away from the office might be all they need to get some perspective.

  1. Recognise when it’s not working

If nothing is working and your employee continues to be disruptive, you need to know when to call it quits. It may feel like you are throwing in the towel, but persevering with a trouble-maker who refuses to change is a huge drain on your resources. Cut the cord if necessary.

Over to you...

Treat the problem of troublesome staff with the care it deserves. Taking the time to listen and act with tact as well as decisiveness will likely re-engage your employee and bolster your reputation with the rest of your team too. Win, win.

Managing Director

I joined Cathedral Appointments in 1998 to cover a maternity leave and never left. I now co own the business and love my job. I've a great team of consultants who work with me in ensuring that Cathedral Appointments provide an excellent service to candidates and clients alike.

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How to handle difficult staff - The 10-step no-fuss method

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