How to Deal with a Difficult Employee

It’s Monday. Your weekend seems like it was just a bit too short. You’ve entered your office, settled down behind your desk, and before you know it you’re receiving a barrage of complaints from EmployeeX about his job, what he doesn’t like about a particular task, and what he perceives other employees are saying about him behind his back. It doesn’t really matter what you say to EmployeeX – he’s always combative and argumentative. He doesn’t deal appropriately with other coworkers and, to be honest, he’s a distraction in the workplace.

So how do you deal with someone who is difficult, on all levels, on a regular basis?

You need to start out by doing your homework. What exactly is it that causes EmployeeX to be so difficult. Why does he always complain? Why does he feel like other take credit for his work (or why does he take credit for the work others have done)? Everyone can be difficult on occasion – due to stress or a problem at at home – but EmployeeX seems to always have some sort of problem.

When you’re doing your homework, look for facts. Think about the inappropriate behaviour you have witnessed or think about the situations where you have multiple witnesses who can tell you what happened. Heresay, gossip, and rumors won’t help you solve problems. Are you making the problem worse in the way you respond (combative vs. combative)?

Your next step is to make a plan for confronting the employee in question. Determine the severity of the situation and, if it warrants such action, ask a HR representative to sit in on the meeting. It’s not fun to do, but you absolutely have to tell EmployeeX that his behaviour in the workplace is simply not appropriate. Talk to him and see if you can determine exactly what it is that causes his behavioural issues. Don’t interrupt him, repeat back parts of what he is saying so that he knows you are listening, and try to set some guidlines that dicatate more appropriate behaviour at work.

In the end, you’ll come up with some sort of solution. EmployeeX will either embrace the opportunity you’re giving him for change or he’ll stray further away. If that’s the case, you’ll need to get him help or – unfortunately – sever your working relationship.

It’s OK to do that if you find there are no other options. The trick, as a manager, is knowing how to recognize when you’ve run out of options.

Thanks again,


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 29 March, 2010

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