How to deal with 'difficult' employees

Counselling: Sheer peer pressure is another tool that could influence employees for the better

How to deal with 'difficult'  employees

The matter of dealing with such employees needs patience, perseverance, tough and sometimes unpleasant decision to serve as a deterrent to others. Sometimes only a stick works when everything else fails. That’s unfortunate but that’s the ground realty, which a manager has to face some time or the other.

Our ancients had strategies to deal with difficult situations. They would adopt sama (counsel), dana (generous), bedha (creating dissensions) and finally if nothing works danda (stick or discipline). It all depends upon a particular situation.

It should be remembered that not two situations could be exactly the same. In fact, a workable solution in one department may not work in another department faced with a similar problem.

It is also possible after a while what appeared to be an identical problem could not be tackled by the earlier time-tested solution. It only means a manager has to appreciate the dynamics of any situation before planning for action.

A problem could start small – a simple act of defiance of the boss in a fit of rage at one time. Such an outburst cannot be dealt with by a heavy hand such as disciplinary action.

Human behaviour is unpredictable. That same person could be a polite and very reasonable man. Such a passing aberration should be handled sensitively and with understanding. That person should be called for a one-to-one frank discussion.

May be that person had a genuine grievance that had upset him as it had not been redressed. Such a situation could be handled diplomatically by lending an ear to hear the grievance and a shoulder to cry on when someone is upset and emotional.

It is possible that person appreciates the fact that the superior has chosen not to fire him or take him to task but to hear his grievances sympathetically. Such one-to-one meeting could calm the nerves if done sincerely.

It is not that every demand of an employee has to be met but a discussion why some demands cannot be met for reasons beyond the control of the immediate superior would be useful. Such frankness could help the two for better mutual understanding. A trust deficit could be bridged with a personal touch approach.

A tough nut

There are a few employees who are misfits in any department. They cannot get on with their superiors or colleagues. They are not team players. Some of them suffer from personality disorders, which have no easy solution.

The first step is to identity such not-so-normal employees. Professional counselling could help in some cases. Sheer peer pressure is another tool that could influence employees for the better.

Helping hand

It would benefit the employees if sympathetic colleagues lend a helping hand. Sometimes a change in the department itself could help the recalcitrant employee(s) to make significant improvement. Perhaps a new environment and a set of new colleagues could influence them positively. 

Such a horizontal move could prove beneficial to the employee and the management too. It would be advisable if the concerned employee were given a choice where he/she wants to work.

However, a few tough ‘nuts’ give constant headache to the manager who is often at a loss how to deal with such employees who refuse to obey orders, quarrel constantly with the boss as well colleagues and it is a running battle between the employees and the superior. Such a scenario is no doubt scary as productive time of the manager as well as most of the employees is wasted while dealing with difficult and troublesome employees.

Double testing

The HRD personnel too could be roped in for advice and guidance. One bad apple is enough to spoil the rest of the good apples in the barrel and that’s why it is necessary to deal with recalcitrant employee(s) firmly and decisively. A brief period of suspension is one option, which might work. That person is no doubt testing a manager/superior to find out how far he/she could go.

When such a drastic action takes place the employee concerned gets a ‘shock’ treatment and from then on might be more cautious as the management had acted tough.

However, such an action might not be appreciated by a few employees who believe the management had acted unnecessarily with a heavy hand.

The final option is to get rid of the tough employee after giving that person one last warning orally and in writing. That indeed is a sad day but some times unpleasant duties have to be performed by the manager/superior in the overall interest of the organisation which cannot afford the luxury of tolerating indiscipline and abnormal behaviour endlessly. It would be advisable the concerned departmental employees are informed that such a harsh decision was taken to get rid of one employee when the management had no other option.

Generally most of the employees would appreciate the stand taken by the management, which had given that employee ample time to reform but with no positive outcome.

Such a step, after due and careful consideration, could send out a loud and clear message to some other difficult employee(s) who might change for the better knowing that the management was not vindictive but had given the concerned employee(s) enough time to reform but with no positive outcome.      

(The writer is a Consultant Q & M)

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