Dealing with Difficult Employees
Without the quirks and unpredictabilities of human nature, HR professionals would have a lot more time to spend drafting company policies, recruiting new hires and playing Angry Birds. But until the workplace is taken over by efficient, flawless robots, there will be always be difficult employees. And as long as there are difficult employees, there will be struggling managers who turn to HR for help. Your approach to every problematic employee will depend on the specific situation, but there are few general concepts to keep in mind as your strive to keep your workplace civilized, productive and positive.
First, “difficult” can mean either of two things. Problematic employees may also be low producers. In this case, standard disciplinary action in keeping with company protocol can help you walk a difficult employee to the door. Document every meeting, keep clear records of all signed PIPs and coaching efforts, and make sure that every assessment of the employee’s performance and behavior are fair and give reasonable opportunity for growth. Under no circumstances should an employee face disciplinary action or termination based on his or her ethnicity, gender, religion, age or handicapped status. But as long as these conditions are clear, terminating a non-productive and antisocial employee is well within the rights of an employer.
On the other hand, a difficult employee who is combative, overly negative, or otherwise hard to work with can sometimes contribute to the enterprise in unexpected ways. An employee like this may represent a valuable asset to the company in spite of her shortcomings. In this case, sit down with her manager and carefully draft a coaching plan that is clear, firm, and flexible in case changes are required as the plan progresses. Take the following into account:
Goals should be firm but realistic. Give a talented employee a chance to temper her negative energy by establishing clearly defined milestones to a clearly defined destination. Make sure she understands the consequences of every missed milestone, and make sure both the employee and her manager know exactly when and how the probationary period will end.
Include managers in the process. Make sure your managers have the training they need to deal with this specific personality conflict, and make sure they aren’t inadvertently standing in the way of positive change.
Listen. Thorny personnel problems are often rooted in issues that may not be clear at the outset. Try to identify the source of the problem before you take action.
Know when to shift course. Recognize when a coaching plan isn’t working and needs to be adjusted. Regular progress reports can help. So can a combination of both formal and informal meetings with the employee.