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Dealing With Difficult Employees

It doesn't matter how small your business is--if you have employees, some of them will turn out to be difficult! Dealing with difficult and problem employees is a challenge that can take a lot of time from your primary tasks, but ignoring the problem can hurt morale and productivity. The problem employees' behavior may spread to other people. And, of course, they impact the bottom line, especially if you have to fire them: the US Department of Labor says the the price of a bad hire is 30% of their yearly salary.

To be clear, a problem or difficult employee is not the same as a toxic one who should be let go as soon as possible. What makes someone a problem employee is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, but there are some common types we have encountered as we work with clients.

The Ghost


These problem employees are rarely around when they are needed. They come in late, leave early, take long breaks, or don't pitch in during busy times. Their behavior causes resentment from other employees who do their part.

Often these employees won't work out long term, but it's worth trying to get to the bottom of the issue. Sometimes they may be having personal problems, while other times they just need a little change in their hours or tasks to perform well.

The Bad Attitude

B.A. "Bad Attitude" Baracus

Employees with bad attitudes can affect your entire team as well as your clients. We talk a lot about employee engagement because it is so critical to the health of a company. Unfortunately, we've seen that one employee with poor engagement affects coworkers more than one employee with high engagement.

These employees benefit from a frank discussion of how their behavior is detrimental to those around them. And if they continue to badmouth your product, complain about their hours, and ignore their manager, it will be best for you to let them go.

The Rebel

Rebel Without a Cause

Rebels don't necessarily do things that are immediate causes for firing, such as stealing company property or embezzling funds. They resist following the rules, policies, and procedures your company has established. They also might violate your company's cultural norms by doing things like leaving dirty dishes lying around and not participating in company activities.

These types of difficult employees have a hard time following guidelines if they don't understand the point, so try to explain the reasoning behind the rules. If you value certain Rebels in other ways, include them in the process of developing procedures. They might have solutions you haven't considered.

They Do it Their Way

These problem employees are similar to the Rebel, but they tend to have a sense that they know better than everyone else. They also resist being part of a team. Like the rebels, sometimes they have good ideas, but their arrogant attitudes can be problematic. Like the ghosts, they are not always there when needed.

As a manager, you will need to keep this type accountable; otherwise, they will continue to take liberties and potentially alienate their coworkers.

Once you have identified your difficult employees, what's the next step? LMC's Director of HR Christina Davis is offering a free video on managing problem employees. Sign up to have the video sent to you, and start turning those problem employees into productive ones!

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