How to Deal with a Difficult Employee

Understanding how to deal with a difficult employee can be a nightmare for most employers. The key to a successful outcome will depend on whether the situation has been dealt with fairly and proactively. If you’re in a difficult situation concerning an employee, there are various actions you can take to avoid things escalating to an employment tribunal.

Most managers have been involved in a tricky scenario involving an employee at some stage of their career. This could be an employee with a poor absence record or poor performance. They might not have a good relationship with their colleagues, or they are just difficult to deal with. But there could be an underlying reason for their behaviour. It’s the manager’s job to find out what’s wrong so any issues can be tackled.

Listen to what they have to say

The first step is to understand their point of view which can only be achieved by listening to what they have to say. They may not be a “difficult employee” but someone who is in a difficult situation, which is triggering certain attitudes or behaviours. Employers need to pay attention to what the employee has to say, and this will help them to feel valued. They might be facing a tough problem, which isn’t their fault, and they may need your support.

Give clear feedback and actions

Instead of complaining about a difficult employee to your peers, give direct feedback to the person concerned. Do this constructively, one-to-one and in a meeting room where you can both speak in confidence. As a manager, you might have to have a tough conversation, but it is important to address any issues. Think about how you phrase the questions you need to ask and rehearse in advance. The employee will be defensive so try not to cause animosity.

Explain the consequences

Set some SMART objectives, so the employee knows what they need to achieve and what’s expected of them. You may be in a situation where the employee shows little or no regard for the consequences of their behaviour. The key here is to make the employee aware of the repercussions of their actions and what will lead to a disciplinary procedure. If the employee does not believe their behaviour will lead to a negative outcome, they are unlikely to change.

Document your conversations

Log everything – what the employee says and the feedback you have given. List any actionable points, so you have a clear record of everything that has been said. Make sure the employee has a written copy of any actions. Fully documented conversations with employees are crucial, especially if a situation escalates to a disciplinary. You might need to refer to your notes in future disciplinary meetings or possibly an employment tribunal.

Avoid a costly Employment Tribunal

If you are unsure how to deal with a difficult employee and fail to address the issue, you could end up with an employment tribunal claim against the company. Employment tribunals can come at a high cost to a company. If a situation escalates to the point where you dismiss the employee, they could decide to make a claim for unfair dismissal. At the time of writing, the maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal is £93,878. It is therefore important to avoid a situation getting to this stage at all costs.

How to deal with a difficult employee – 3 steps

The following measures will help you manage ongoing situations with a difficult employee:

  1. Regular one-to-ones – schedule regular meetings with your employees and implement an appraisal system; this could be part of a PDP (Personal Development Plan) process.
  2. Review policies and procedures – make sure your disciplinary and grievance procedures are correct, clear and up to date, along with any company-wide policies.
  3. Train managers – line managers, team leaders and supervisors may require additional training on employee performance management. Your employees need to know what is expected of them so they can perform their jobs well.

Do you need support with an employee?

Jude Read-HR provides ad hoc HR advice, regular retained support or on a consultancy basis for more complex cases and large projects. As your HR partner, we can review and update your disciplinary and grievance procedures. We can also help you implement these into your workplace. Your company will benefit from a dedicated HR advisor who will get to know your business, so we can provide you with practical, proactive and friendly advice.

If you’d like HR advice relating to a difficult employee or you would like to know more about our services, please get in touch

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