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9 Tips to managing difficult employees

Staff Management

Whether just managing staff, their rota, their shifts or scheduling them, there are always those members of staff that are difficult to manage. Some are just BAD EGGS and it doesn't matter what we do, they will always be difficult. Here are 9 tips to help you deal with them and a possible workforce management solution that could take some of the burden off you by removing some contentious areas where there is often miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Use a positive outlook and be a better manager as a result of these encounters

As a company or organisation you will ALWAYS have staff that are more difficult to deal with than others. Life wouldn’t be the same without these "difficult staff"! I accept that at times these particular employees are demanding, wearing and draining but as managers who are striving to improve and increase our personal value, we can often learn a lot from the challenges presented by these difficult members of staff and take these experiences or lessons into the rest of our careers.

One basic ploy that we can definitely learn from these situations is to be more proactive. Try and nip any such situation in the bud next time, before it has the chance to develop and start affecting other staff members. But remember it is also possible that at the root of the troubles that drive any particularly difficult employee is a genuine concern or issue that the business needs to address that you are unaware of.

Here are some tips born out of experience and some research on how best to deal with a difficult person/ people or issues:

1. Always be on your game

Stay focused, be on your game, be professional and alert. A colleague of mine once said, as a throw away comment, to a very, very difficult member of our staff “Do you know X, every time you appear I expect to see two men in white coats appear next to you!” Now, funny as this may have been at the time, this staff member quoted this back to us in his weekly complaint newsletter ad infinitum, even bringing it up in the pre-tribunal paperwork.

2. Be empathetic, understanding and firm

Anticipate what could happen. In terms of new policies or work conditions for example, understand what issues your staff may have. Look at them in an empathetic and understanding way. If you need to, don’t hesitate to keep bringing them back to their job specifications, their agreed targets and their terms and conditions. After all, when they started working for you they have agreed to and signed each of these. Try to work out what is driving the behaviour of this particular staff member. Quite often this will help you either solve the problem or have a better understanding of it.

3. Act promptly

It is always important to act promptly having considered the situation, established the facts and evaluated the impact of what you are about to do. "Do NOT react to gossip or rumours". This isn’t always easy and I have definitely been guilty of doing this in the past.

4. Frequently assess your staff in your own mind

I read a very good article recently that recommended the practice of frequently “weighing up” or assessing staff that you found difficult. Having assessed them they can be considered as either assets or liabilities of the business if you will. Accepting that those considered assets are difficult and therefore take a disproportionate amount of your time but they are worth it because of their value to the organisation. There is of course a converse argument for others- the liabilities. Those “energy thieves” that spend all of their efforts trying to circumvent the rules you put in place for them or trying to “beat the system” instead of doing their jobs.

5. Managing negative employees

Manage negative employees effectively. Understand what their issues are and use them to your advantage. It never hurts to have Devil’s Advocate’s at meetings. Quite often others are thinking it but not bold enough or confident enough to say it. So anticipate what issues the negative staff are likely to raise and be prepared with good simple counter points to each of their arguments ready. Explain clearly the benefits of following your chosen path.

6. Visibility and transparency

Be as visible and transparent in your dealing with staff. Where there is a chance to have information available to staff in a clear and "simple to understand" format for all to see my advice would be to grab that chance! This means they can read and absorb this and discuss it with colleagues if necessary. So notice boards are a must! I can remember in a company I ran which had about 100 staff there were always heated email and verbal conversations about holidays and absences and how the staff member thought they had taken this much, had this much booked but the company HR department thought differently.

So avoid these unnecessary misunderstandings and difficult conversations where people can get heated, because their holiday days are personal to them, by using technology. If you get the chance to I would recommend a system that has staff portals through which each member of staff can see what holiday and sickness they have had, have booked and have remaining and it allows them to request (apply or request NOT guarantee) holiday. wherever they are. So when they are sat at home and their partner says “Lets take a long weekend in 5 weeks time” they don’t have to make a note or remember it by tying a knot in a handkerchief (who has a handkerchief these days?) and then get into trouble for forgetting. They can request it there and then!

7. Communication


Learn to be a good communicator and a great listener (an all too often forgotten part of communication). Be clear in your communication. Separate out communication into the key and important from that which is important but mundane and repetitive. Pick a system like PARiM to do the mundane and repetitive for you automatically. This means you don’t even have to think about or bother with this. It’s just DONE!

8. Develop a framework

Over time I would recommend developing a framework or template for dealing with difficult staff, almost a checklist if you will, so that you approach each situation in the same consistent and measured manner. It will also help you confront these situations instead of procrastinating.

9. Accept management isn’t always simple

In conclusion understand and accept that managing difficult people and difficult situations isn’t always going to be easy and straightforward. If you need help or expertise be honest with yourself and ask for it. Use the right technology within your organisation to free up some of your time so that you can learn/ study or research to become better at dealing with these. Finding a system, like PARiM, that makes staff more efficient, automatically records their hours, keeps all their data, allows their documents, disciplinary letters and certificate to be uploaded, records and tracks their holidays and absences and allows them to see these for themselves whenever they want would definitely be a step forward!

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