How to Deal With Difficult Employees

All employees are unique individuals with different personalities. Unfortunately, some can be problematic and challenging to work with. Business owners often don’t know how to deal with difficult employees properly and things sometimes get worse.

When managing difficult employees, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy, so you need to prepare yourself with multiple tips which we’ll discuss further in this post.

1. Remain calm

Working with difficult employees may make you feel stressed and angry, but you shouldn’t shout at them in front of other team members. That creates a bad image of yours in employees’ eyes and doesn’t really solve anything.

Learn to control your emotions and remain silent in certain situations. Tell them your thoughts gently and constructively.

Being calm is not about being humble or giving in to the problematic employee. You still look for solutions without an inconsiderate and angry manner.

2. Become that boss people want to work for

how to deal with difficult employees

Managing the whole business is difficult, and it’s even harder to deal with different types of people. No matter how overbearing some staff may be, don’t become that boss who throws malicious ridicule or criticisms at others.

Becoming a toxic boss will lead to lower work morale and performance as employees aren’t happy at work. You can’t just embarrass or give your employees unreasonable discipline whenever they make mistakes at work.

Show employees your kindness and politeness as a leader. Don’t hesitate to be friends with your staff so that they aren’t afraid to express their own thoughts. Some difficult employees who realize that their boss cares about them and their mental wellness have actually changed their attitude and behaviors at work.

3. Self-evaluate

Sometimes, it’s no coincidence that employees show an attitude to their boss. Review your management styles and behaviors. Ask yourself if you’ve been too rigid, or if you’ve really got along with your employees. Try putting yourself in their shoes.

Self-evaluation is a great way to gradually perfect yourself as a leader. This will help you understand yourself and your staff, not only to deal with difficult employees but also to create a better working environment.

4. Have private conversations

Giving room for listening and sharing is an effective way to deal with difficult employees. By holding private, 1-on-1 conversations with your staff, you can listen to their feedback and find out any workplace issues that lead to their negative behaviors.

Make sure that the conversations are based on the spirit of sharing and understanding, and the ultimate goal is to find out the solutions and to explain if there are misunderstandings.

5. Establish clear policies and disciplinary actions

Although punishing employees is something no manager wants, if certain employees keep repeating challenging behaviors, you need to take disciplinary actions.

Rewards and penalties should be stated in the company handbook or policies in advance, so that you have something to refer to when facing problematic staff.

6. Document challenging behaviors

It’s crucial that the workplace operate based on trust, not track. No one loves being monitored like a baby. But if an employee keeps showing challenging behaviors, you need to record those incidents, including the specific date and time.

By doing this, you’ve prepared yourself for lawsuits if the difficult employee decides to sue you (because you fire them or take disciplinary actions).

But let’s expect things don’t get that ugly (but they certainly can), then you still need something to refer to if you have 1-on-1 conversations with the employee. Some simply aren’t aware of what they did (it happens!), so having a clear time and date to mention can be useful.

7. Act flexibly

Being flexible based on different situations is necessary when dealing with difficult employees. You have to actively switch between different modes of management: firm, empathetic, kind, etc.

When employees act negatively because they’re going through tough times, you can be that understanding person who supports them. But you can’t give in if an employee always acts inconsiderately, you need to be firm instead.

8. Don’t ignore the problems

how to deal with difficult employees

Many managers simply ignore difficult employees and expect the problems to fade.

Honestly, if you’re that manager, don’t expect someone to change completely and problems to solve themselves when you wake up one morning. You may expect workplace conflicts, loss of productivity, and other employees leaving instead.

Be prepared to discuss “sticky” topics. Don’t be afraid to point out behaviors that affect other staff and your business.

9. Be fair to everyone

Although some employees are super pleasant to work with, it’s necessary to be fair to everyone in the workplace. Employees notice if you prioritize certain people, and difficult employees can become more challenging to deal with.

Always clarify the responsibilities and benefits of each employee in any project/role. Only fulfill employees’ requirements in case they’re reasonable. And if you approve one person’s request, be prepared to do the same to other similar requests.

10. Recognize a hopeless situation

Sometimes, when you can’t find any effective solutions to handle difficult employees, it’s time to follow the termination policies of your business.

Those employees might be capable, but their behaviors and attitudes may affect other staff and the whole team’s general performance. When you’ve done everything you could, you don’t have to have regrets or guilt.


Knowing how to deal with difficult employees is an inevitable part of being a manager. Whether you’re new to management or an experienced boss, it’s important to be prepared for the worst situations.

So the next time you face a problematic employee, you know what to do. Just remain calm and flexible, then take necessary actions.

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