Six steps to dealing with problem employees


There wouldn’t be a workplace in Australia that doesn’t have one, or perhaps several problem employees. Often they have been employed for many years and their behaviour is dismissed as, “He or she has always been like that…”. Or perhaps they don’t work well in a team or have had personality clashes with colleagues and management. These problem employees are often put in the too hard basket, leaving them to impact other staff and the productivity and harmony of the workplace.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are six strategies for having those difficult conversations, so you can deal with these employees and make sure that your business and other staff are not negatively impacted.

  1. Address the issues early. When something doesn’t feel right, or you can see that disharmony is starting, have the conversations that need to be had. It might feel like a difficult task, but dealing with a crisis later is much harder. 
  2. Put agreements in place on how to communicate and behave in the workplace. Making agreements creates clarity, which in turn helps to avoid conflict in the workplace. If there are no agreements, it is much harder to hold people to account. It works best if everyone in the team has an input in these agreements so that they can take ownership. 
  3. Make sure you talk about accountability. After you have put agreements in place talk about  how your employees will hold each other to account. Ideally you do not want management involved every time they have an issue, but rather that they will work it out for themselves. Plus, when they make agreements about how to hold each other to account they give each other permission to do so. You are creating a culture in which it is the norm to have these conversations.
  4. Make clear the behaviours you expect. Do not accept the concept that someone is “just like that”, which avoids responsibility. There are basic human behaviours that we all need to display when we work in a team. People need to be able to communicate appropriately on a basic level and there is nothing wrong with having that expectation from the people that work within the business. Make sure you make clear requests of your employees in relation to how they work together so they know what it is that you expect.
  5. Approach your problem people with empathy. How you approach the person that is not behaving well in the workplace makes all the difference when you want to address their behaviour. Often you’ll discover personal issues outside work are driving their behaviour.  If you know what the issues are then you can support them through that. This does not mean that you have to tolerate the behaviour. These conversations often go well if you come from a place of empathy and a commitment to support this person and create a safe work environment for everyone, instead of just telling someone off.
  6. Don’t make individuals the scapegoats. Often conflict is showing up in workplaces because there are structural issues within the business. So, it’s not helpful to blame just one or two people. Instead, it is more powerful to look at what are the structural issues in our business and what do we need to change in our business culture.



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