How to Deal with Difficult Employees

Managers beware: the 7 habits of difficult employees

Dr Mary Casey (Doctorate of Psychology) is CEO of leading health and education organisation Casey Centre, with 200 employees. She says most CEOs and managers, at some point, have had to deal with an employee who has soured the workplace culture, reduced productivity, wasted time or discredited co-workers.

When dealing with a difficult employee, what works for one may not work for another. “As no employee is the same, you need specific strategies to most effectively deal with their personalities,” says Dr Casey, who is author of How to Deal with Master Manipulators.  “Unfortunately, difficult people can’t be changed – we can only learn strategies to ensure we aren’t their targets.”

“The most beneficial action a boss can do when dealing with any employee’s behaviour is giving them feedback on it immediately and holding them accountable. Ensure you keep communication open and flowing.
Dr Mary Casey’s strategies for dealing with 7 difficult employee types

The Seducer: Strategic friendships and allegiances is the goal for these types – they pick and choose their networks to benefit their careers. “These relationships are self-serving and damaging to business,” says Dr Casey. “They praise you, compliment you and may even buy you small gifts in order to manipulate and seduce. Being aware of this type of behaviour is the first skill employers require, because we all love praise and compliments and we therefore easily get caught up with this kind of manipulation. Set strong boundaries for acceptable behaviour with other employees.”

The Back-stabber: These employees discredit their co-workers and take credit for more work than they have done. Dr Casey advises: “This kind of behaviour highlights a deep insecurity in these employees. An employer’s best strategy is to be open to feedback from other employees and confront the employee with what they have said or done – let them know their behaviour is unacceptable. Be aware they will often try to turn what you are saying into an over-reaction from you, however stand your ground and repeat what they have said or done and that you will take it further if they don’t stop. Be unemotional. It is a good idea to speak to them in private because, being insecure, they don’t cope with confrontation or assertiveness.”

The Social Networker:  Do you see the flicking of screens from Facebook to their work whenever you walk past their desk? An addiction to Facebook, Twitter or mobile phones will have significant effects on the productivity of any employee. “Set a strong policy for internet usage, specifically outlining boundaries on social networking as it is a new phenomenon. Ensure it outlines consequences for abusing the policy. With a strong policy, you can hold your employee accountable when they are caught online,” Dr Casey says. “In worst-case scenarios, you would disable employee access to social networking sites.”

The Martyr: These people blame everything and everyone rather than take responsibility for something that they have or haven’t done. They have a “poor me” attitude and try to make those around them feel sorry for them. “They use this behaviour to manipulate. Keep these people responsible by putting the onus back onto them. It is important to remain unemotional and stick to the issue at hand, rather than being pulled into their “story”. Put your concerns in writing, outlining the exact details of their behaviour and how it negatively affects the company culture,” Dr Casey says.

The Iceberg: Cold and non-communicative, these employees rarely keep you or their team up to date on their work, don’t contribute in meeting, and keep to themselves along with any information they may have. “Dealing with these types takes courage and assertiveness,” says Dr Casey. “Communicate via notes or emails to encourage their involvement. Ask open-ended questions so that they are forced to give you information. If they often answer ‘I don’t know’, a good tactic is to ask ‘What if you had to guess?’ or ‘What if you did know?’”

The Tardy Employee: These employees keep to their own clock: they might arrive at work late, take long lunchbreaks, and leave right on time. They may even make regular personal appointments during work hours. “Tardiness should be addressed in a professional manner,” says Dr Casey. “When discussing the issue, explain that their behaviour shows lack of commitment and hurts the morale of the office by letting co-workers see that they are breaking the rules, while the rest are doing their part to obey them. It’d be a good idea to get to the heart of the matter by discussing with them whether they feel committed to the job and devising a solution from there. If they have a good reason for coming in late – such getting their young children off to school or study commitments - find a compromise between their schedule and their work that won’t affect the business or their productivity.”

The Offloader: They ensure they have very little work on their plate while making themselves look very busy and important in front of their managers. When given a brief, they quickly make it someone else’s responsibility by briefing a junior or bringing another employee to each briefing. When asked about the project by management, they often refer to the junior. “Often these employees are not confident in themselves to do the job, although they can be very confident communicators,” says Dr Casey. “It’s important that a clear and detailed job description and specific KPIs form the basis of their performance appraisals. Being confident, they can paint a very convincing picture in front on management even in a performance appraisal, for instance shifting the blame for poor performance to other employees. It is important for managers to keep the appraisal focussed on the responsibilities of their role.”