We have all been there. Dealing with the employee who can spot a loophole in an HR process a mile away, who is an expert at building a negative work environment, who can deflect attention from their lack of engagement onto the minor faults of others or the employee who genuinely thinks the universe owes them a living for very little input.
Whatever form it takes, managing difficult employees is a requirement to running an orderly office, creating a happy workforce, and keeping your sanity. Having in place specific coaching techniques for difficult employees is one of the most important lessons in successful management.
1. Praise positive performance
When considering how to deal with difficult employees, remember that everyone has something to offer given the right support and encouragement. Work on strengths.
In one to ones, make sure to reference what the employee has done well and to provide praise and encouragement.
When around other employees, also make a point of commenting on aspects of work that the employee has done well.
This positive reinforcement will make it more difficult for the employee to build an environment of negativity.
No one is all bad or all good, and building on what the employee has to offer will help them to integrate, to feel secure and to see the benefits of contributing
2. Be in control
Where difficult employees do attempt to create a negative work environment, it is essential to be in control.
Be firm but fair and do not allow negativity to become endemic. Work with staff who contribute positively. It is an integral part of coaching techniques for difficult employees, not to let a troublesome member of the team dominate or direct meeting
Stick to the point and do not be manipulated or allow meetings to go at a tangent because one member wishes to deflect attention away from their contribution or to highlight the inadequacies of others or undermine systems you have in place.
3. Be consistent
Thinking about coaching techniques for difficult employees, remember to apply rules consistently. Be clear about the content of the rules and what this means.
Draw on company documentation, set clear boundaries and verbalize consequences.
Engage the employee in the process by writing up agreements and getting them to sign a copy, confirming your mutual understanding of what has been said and agreed. Do this immediately so there can be no argument further down the line. Do not be afraid to act on the consequences efficiently and effectively. In this way, your integrity stays in place, and there can be doubt about the rights and wrongs of your actions.
4. Use discretion fairly
Of course, it may not always be possible to draw on rules as rules are often, of necessity, discretionary.
Here, you may be sure that your difficult employee will be the first to suggest that favouritism is an issue. In these instances, be clear about your interpretation and why there is discretion.
Take discussions away from the working environment to listen to the grievance of the employee.
Explain patiently. Do not challenge the employee in front of others allowing the issue to escalate. Public confrontation can be detrimental to the company and can make an uncomfortable environment for those who work within it.
5. Engage the employee
When considering coaching techniques for difficult employees, it is essential to obtain the buy-in of all employees. Where an employee is not able to engage with projects or processes, it is crucial to find what is preventing this.
Merely repeating the same demands will inevitably reach the same result. Listening to employees’ opinions of the work they are undertaking helps to understand their lack of motivation and may result in increasing their engagement with some aspect of the work that they find meaningful or motivating.
6. Try something new
An employee displaying difficult behavior may merely need a change of role.
While it is not appropriate to reward a problematic employee with the best jobs or the exciting new projects, just for a more comfortable life, it is fair to understand that repeating the same task may become tedious and disheartening.
Here, understanding what makes the employee tick and allowing them to spread their wings or take on work that will involve and occupy them may turn the difficult employee into the contented employee.
7. Always use frequent examples
Sometimes it is necessary to challenge a difficult employee. Always be prepared with examples of how behaviour is not appropriate.
It is not sufficient to describe an issue; there must also be evidence to support this idea.
This evidence cannot be an isolated example which would show that everyone has a bad day. It must show “frequent” or persistent issues. For example, there might be consistent inability to follow an instruction, a general failure to communicate effectively or an ongoing problem with producing quality work.
Preparation to identify “frequent” examples is an excellent method of applying coaching techniques for difficult employees.
Having techniques for coaching difficult employees is essential. It is always worth remembering that it takes as much effort to do something wrong as it does to do something well. Therefore, coaching techniques for difficult employees are not about changing performance but about dealing with the attitude of the employee that causes the poor performance. The employee must want to engage positively, and here, encouragement and support and understanding can often facilitate change.
On the other hand, the difficult employee must not be allowed to dominate the work environment, to influence or distract others or to undermine company standards. Rules must be applied fairly and consistently, and time and attention must be divided appropriately.
The competent manager must know how to control or change a situation, to maintain a productive and happy work environment and to allow all members to contribute and to be acknowledged.
With a little effort and a consistent approach, the well-informed manager can create a constructive environment that does not allow the difficult employee to dominate, manipulate or thrive on negativity.