7 Ways to Handle Problem Employees
One of the most unpleasant tasks a manager or shop owner faces is dealing with problem employees. In a more perfect world we’d all come to work with the desire to do our best to help our companies succeed. In fact, most employees do just that. Sure, we all have those days when we’re not at our best, but most of us take pride in our work, so long as it’s appreciated.
Unfortunately, there are exceptions:
- The Prima Donnas who think they’re better than their co-workers and should be treated “special”
- The Drama Queens who throw tantrums whenever something goes wrong
- The Specialists whose mantra is “That’s not my job”
- Houdini – the worker who has mastered the art of disappearing from his or her work area and magically reappearing just before quitting time
- Mr. or Ms. Innocent who is never at fault, never takes responsibility, but always finds something or someone to blame when things go wrong
There are others offenders, of course, and some are more serious than others. Obviously if anyone is a threat to the well being of other employees, they must be dealt with swiftly and permanently. However you should be cautious when dealing with most problem employees for two good reasons: (1) Assuming their skills and talents are valuable to your organization, it may be worth the effort to help them to improve their behaviors rather than face the task of replacing them. (2) In today’s litigious society, it’s important to protect your company from the possibility of a wrongful termination suit.
This doesn’t mean you simply tolerate bad behavior. You should take action, but through a process that serves both the employee and the organization. Here are a few suggestions:
- Confront the problem. If you ignore what’s going on you are tacitly condoning the employee’s behavior. Meet privately with the individual, so they aren’t embarrassed in front of coworkers, and have an honest and open discussion. This means listening to the employee’s side of the story and weighing what you hear against the facts. Acknowledge their position, but point out that while you may sympathize, the behaviors must change.
- Focus on the behavior, not the person. If you make it personal, the individual will become defensive and less likely to hear what you are saying. Make the conversation about your expectations, not about the person’s shortcomings.
- Set clear expectations and consequences. Be specific about the behaviors that are unacceptable and that you require the employee to stop them. Make it clear what will happen if the behavior doesn’t improve.
- Be consistent with each and every employee. If you tell an employee that certain behaviors won’t be tolerated, you cannot overlook like behaviors from others in the company. This includes supervisors, family members and friends. Managers and owners set the tone and should model the kind of behavior they expect from their employees.
- Document all interactions. Keep notes of any meetings related to employee behavior issues, including dates, what was discussed, the corrective actions the employee is to take, and the consequences if he or she fails to comply.
- Schedule a follow up meeting. After advising the employee of the behaviors they must change, schedule a time to get back together to assess the employee’s progress. If the employee is making a sincere effort to improve, show appreciation and encourage them to continue.
- If all else fails, review the situation with the employee, cite specific instances where they continue to exhibit unacceptable behaviors, remind them of the consequences of their actions and follow through. No manager enjoys firing, but you can’t allow a problem employee to affect the rest of the team or the company.