3 Tips on Contending With Difficult Employees


You may be blind-sided with a serious wake-up call upon embarking on your new career path within an HR role. You were offered the job, accepted the employment terms/conditions, and you spent the weekend envisioning all the changes that you will be making to the experience that your coworkers receive while on the job. You picture the improvements you will devise to operational processes, the stress-reducing activities you will implement in order to bring a bit of fun back into the work space, and see yourself coaching your staff into becoming seasoned professionals.


However, when you find yourself face to face with living, breathing, thinking people, your plans fly off the rails faster than you could imagine. They say that the only certainty in life is change. I believe you can follow that point with, “...people typically have an incredible aversion to change.” Difficult employees are a major obstacle to organizational progression; however, the answer is not to simply get rid of these individuals, as difficult employees are not typically difficult for malicious reasons. Here are three tips on handling such individuals.


Never leave out the why...


A vast majority of the time, individuals are difficult to work with and resistant to change because they are unable to envision the final result effectively on their own. If an individual is comfortable with a system (including a broken or inept system), they will typically push back on any changes that threaten their comfort/familiarity. The key is to remove the uncertainty from their thoughts by clearly communicating to them why the changes need to be implemented and how they will benefit from the changes. Trust is paramount in these situations, they cannot foresee the improvement, so you will need to for them and support it with evidence.


Approach all issues via multiple perspectives...


Not a single person acts without a reason. There isn’t a single instance in history or fiction where someone acted without motive (keep in mind a motive does not require you to understand it). I once witnessed an employee ruin $10,000 in camera equipment by chucking boxes of printer paper down basement stairs. When asked why, the employee simply said that they were “too old” to be walking boxes to the basement. Their motive may have been anathema to management, but made perfect sense to the employee. Look past the employee’s actions and target the motive to fix the problem. I have seen this occur within the realm of seniority; seasoned employees often rebuff the actions of new managers simply because they perceive that the manager is not experienced enough to lead. Understanding this motive and taking actions to show this employee the value of your workmanship may make a huge difference in both of your careers (but failure to may break their career).


Understand when enough is enough...


Not every battle can be a decisive victory and not every difficult employee can be won over. Excluding serious offences (theft, violence, sexual harassment, etc), it is the HR professional’s moral obligation to help a difficult employee succeed. The best course of action is to approach the situation with a plan, implement your corrective action process, develop some objectives and create a timeline with the other members of the managing staff to arrive at a positive outcome. If those objectives are not met, or the timeframe runs out, with the difficult employee still being a disciplinary issue, then it may be time to enact a discharge.


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Michael Chiovitti, Chief Talent Strategist

Eden Resources, LLC