Latest News

PODCAST: How to manage a difficult employee

Written on Sep 23, 2021

By Jessica Salerno, OSCPA senior content manager

Managers should approach difficult employees with both an open mind and an action plan that makes sense for the individual and the organization.

“This is absolutely something that most managers should be prepared to deal with during their career,” said Eileen Connor, human resources director at Bober Markey Fedorovich. “People are people. And whether we like it or not, we often bring everything about us to the workplace.”

But before labeling an employee as “difficult,” first consider whether they are “unable or unwilling,” Connor said on this week’s episode of The State of Business podcast podcast. She said their being unable or unwilling to do something falls on a spectrum, and it’s the manager’s role to ask the right questions to understand where on the spectrum this employee lands.

The first step is to speak with the employee about the issue to understand the reasoning for their behavior. For example, is someone constantly late because they have no regard for others’ time or are they dropping their child off at daycare each morning across town?

“I would always suggest (acting) as close to the behavior as possible is your best option for changing the behavior,” Connor said. “To allow somebody to be late for four months before you actually say something challenges your credibility as a leader, and also suggests to the employee that it's not really that important.”

If a manager hasn’t done a great job of handling a difficult employee and is looking to get back on course, Connor suggested setting up a meeting to own that responsibility and then move on to how the behavior needs to change.

“Say ‘This is something I perhaps should have brought to you months ago. I wanted to see if your behavior would change and I wanted to be flexible with you,” she said. “Don't spend a lot of time talking about how you as the manager didn't do what you were supposed to do. The most important thing is to own it and move right into the behavior that you're expecting from the employee.”

It's crucial to come to this conversation in a positive mindset, Connor said, because although a manager might be frustrated or tired at this point, rudeness and anger during the discussion won’t be helpful for anyone.

“We're talking about people,” she said. “And the most effective discussion you're going to have with a difficult employee is where you come with this idea of an open mind and the ability to help both the employee and the organization.”

Listen to the podcast episode now.

For additional learning on performance management, visit MyOSCPA.