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How to Manage Difficult Employee Behavior

difficult employee behaviorDifficult employee behavior can manifest itself in many different ways. But no matter what kind you may encounter as a manager, problematic behavior can become a big headache not only for you, but for the entire company if it’s not addressed and resolved appropriately.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers a toolkit with helpful information about how to manage difficult employees and their disruptive behaviors. It breaks down the most common behaviors, discusses potential risks to employers, and shares good advice on how to take action and resolve difficult employee behavior situations.

Behavior Types

Common behaviors that are often exhibited by problematic employees are:

  • Making rude and derogatory comments to colleagues or supervisors
  • Speaking in an angry, hostile tone
  • Showing aggression (throwing something, slamming a door)
  • Being verbally or physically abusive to another individual
  • Threatening legal action when challenged or unhappy about something
  • Fighting authority and thinking company rules do not apply to them

Of course there are lots of other possible behaviors that could be considered problematic, but these are a few of the most common.

Reasons for Behavior

It’s no surprise that difficult employee behavior can have negative effects on other employees, on a department, or even on an entire company depending on the size of the organization. That’s why bad behavior should be addressed and not pushed under the rug, even though managers are sometimes hesitant to get involved because they fear employee backlash or worry that intervening will make the situation worse.

Managers should understand there could be many reasons for an employee’s unfavorable behavior – common causes include:

  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Psychological disorder
  • Physical condition
  • Personal issues – marital, family, financial

No matter what the reason may be, SHRM says “managers have a legal and ethical obligation to investigate complaints or other evidence of such behavior and to prevent its reoccurence by taking prompt, appropriate remedial action. If the organization ignores the problem, it runs the risk of condoning unprofessional behavior and becomes vulnerable to potential legal liability.”

How to Deal

To effectively deal with a difficult employee, managers can follow these steps:

  1. Identify the problem as factually as possible. Make sure that a problem indeed exists, and that it’s one that could have a negative effect on the organization if it’s left unaddressed. The more specific you can be when identifying the problem, the easier it will be to have a clear and detailed conversation with the employee.
  1. Talk with the employee. The most important step in managing problem behavior is discussing it with the employee. The main reason for meeting is to come to an agreement, between manager and employee, that a problem does exist. Meet privately, don’t rush the meeting, and be clear in describing the problem behavior. Managers should be ready to face a variety of reactions from the employee – anger, tears, blaming others or giving the silent treatment.
  1. Discuss next steps. Before any meeting wraps up, the manager and employee should discuss ways to address the problem and agree on a way to solve it. The consequences for the employee, should he or she fail to change their behavior, should be made clear by the manager. If, for any reason, an employee is not willing to acknowledge their behavior and come to an agreement, the manager can schedule another meeting at a later date to discuss unresolved issues.
  1. Always follow up. SHRM says one of the biggest mistakes that managers make is thinking that the situation is “case closed” once the conversation with the employee has occurred. Not true! Following up and monitoring the situation is critical, and is the best way to see a positive resolution to the situation.

As a manager, have you had to deal with difficult employee behavior? Did you see a positive outcome? Share your story with us.

Source: SHRM Toolkit – Managing Difficult Employees and Disruptive Behaviors