In an ideal world, the workplace is happy and harmonious. Unfortunately, you will sometimes be called on to deal with employees who make work an unpleasant place. There are ways to deal with these problem employees.
When you first encounter an employee who has been labelled a problem, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Observe the employee during the course of their working day to identify any problem behaviors. It is tempting to rush in once someone reports an employee. However, taking time to observe issues first hand allows you verify claims and determine the best course of action.
Once you assess the situation, create a plan of action. Never surreptitiously haul the employee into a meeting and have a stern word. Determine whether the employee could benefit from some mentoring, requires further training or whether formal disciplinary action is needed.
If you have an informal chat with a problem employee, make sure that you give clear feedback. Informal chats are a way to discern the underlying reason for a problem behavior. To discover reasons behind the behavior, it can be helpful to ask the employee questions to which they cannot give simple yes or no answers. Be mindful not to interrupt. At the end of the answer, repeat it back to them (in a natural and respectful way) to ensure you’ve taken in all the details. Set steps for improvement and consequences for failing to change their behavior. In other words, if an employee still continues causing issues, then make it very clear to them that the next step will be formal disciplinary proceedings.
On occasion, an employee’s manager will have already tried coaching or training to correct the problem. They may refer the employee to you as a last resort. In those cases, it’s important to take management’s previous actions and their results into consideration, but do not allow their conclusions to predetermine yours.
If possible, develop a solution in partnership with the employee. This helps invest them in the solution, and improves their motivation and morale. This increased sense of ownership of the solution increases responsibility and the chances of success in changing the behavior.
Most importantly, remember to document everything. The moment someone brings you an issue, start documenting. Record every observation of and interaction with your problem employee. Make sure that any formal notice, reprimand, etc., is presented to the employee as a written statement and have them acknowledge it with their signature. This way, if things become ugly or litigious, you have your documentation in order.
Focus on the behavior and not the employee. Never attack the employee personally or assume that the problems they are causing stem from malicious intent. The employee could be having personal or professional issues beyond their control. When dealing with a problem employee, always remember that an employee is never the problem, their behavior is. It is your job to differentiate the two.