For many managers, there's that one employee who's always negative, frustrates co-workers, or otherwise makes the workplace needlessly challenging. In this episode, we'll talk about how you can diffuse the damage difficult employees inflict on everyone around them.

Episode Info

Managing the Unmanageable: How to Deal with Difficult Employees (click to listen/download podcast)

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Speaker Info

Kara Murray is the Vice President of Sales Operations for ADP's Small Business Client Channel. Kara has been with ADP for 9 years and has been in various sales and sales leadership positions while she has been with ADP. One of her primary goals is to educate our clients on the ever-changing HR landscape and how ADP can help them overcome everyday workplace challenges.

Kristin LaRosa is Senior Counsel for ADP's Small Business Services division. Prior to joining ADP, Kristin worked as an employment lawyer where she represented employers in litigation and provided legal advice and counseling on day-to-day employment and HR matters.

Meryl Gutterman is Counsel for ADP's Small Business Services division. Prior to joining ADP, Meryl worked as an attorney in private practice representing small businesses in employment-related matters.

Full Transcript

Kara Murray: For some employers there's that one employee who is always negative, frustrates coworkers, and makes work life challenging. So, how can you respond to diffuse the damage they're inflicting on everyone around them? I'm Kara Murray, and this is HR{preneur}, a podcast by ADP. You work incredibly hard to support your employees and make your business a success. More than likely this means you wear lots of hats, and one of those is probably HR Professional. We're here to help you get the insight you need in order to tackle day-to-day workplace issues. This week I'm joined by Kristin LaRosa and Meryl Gutterman. Both work as counsel for ADP's Small Business Services.

Before we get started, in a recent episode we talked about ADP's new brand campaign, #workingfor. Kristin and Meryl, can you share what you're working for?

Meryl Gutterman: Hi, Kara. So, I'm working to promote inclusion and access in the workplace, and also in our communities.

Kristin LaRosa: And I'm working to help promote pay transparency and pay equity.

Kara: Awesome. Well, thank you for sharing. As always, we want to also thank the ADP Client Appreciation Program for sponsoring this episode. You can earn free payroll by referring ADP, and you can learn more my reaching out to your local ADP sales representative. So, we all know difficult employees can have a negative impact on performance and morale. Learning how to identify and deal with difficult employees can really help you address issues before they affect your business. So, Kristin and Meryl, what's your take on managing these types of employees?

Kristin: So I think one kind of employee who can be pretty challenging for managers to deal with are those employees who like to play the victim. So these are the employees who may blame others whenever something goes wrong, or always have an excuse rather than taking any responsibility for their actions. And I think to effectively manage this type of employee, a manager should really be reinforcing accountability.

Kara: What are some tips you can provide managers to do this?

Kristin: So they can do this by reminding the employee of their job responsibilities and the level of quality that they're expected to deliver, and if the employee isn't meeting expectations managers should let them know immediately and be prepared to explain exactly how the shortcomings are attributed to the employee's performance. And this will help them rebut any argument that it was someone else's fault.

Kara: Absolutely. I'm also glad you mentioned the victim, because I think we can all relate to this example and think of a situation in which our coworker or direct report didn't really have a good sense of accountability. But what if clearly defining accountability just doesn't work?

Meryl: I think this is an area employers tend to struggle with, because, as we all know, a lot of us tend to avoid confrontation.

Kara: True. And it almost seems like confrontation and difficult employees don't mix well. How do you do it right without antagonizing the employee?

Meryl: Well, we recommend starting with a non-threatening conversation with the employee. Let the employee know where they're falling short, and then try to offer them support to improve, and perhaps they'll need additional resources or training to do their job effectively. So come to the table with potential solutions and also make sure that you're keeping a record of and you're documenting all of the interactions you're having with the employee.

Kristin: And I would also add that having a process in place for how your company will address performance issues can serve as a great guideline for how to have these conversations. And employers can often do this through effective manager training programs that focus on how to deliver feedback, and effectively work with HR in navigating employee performance issues.

Kara: That's great advice. Are there certain points employers should focus on when engaging in these types of conversations?

Kristin: I would say reiterate your expectations while setting any new expectations for improvement. And also, as Meryl mentioned, you want to give the employee the support that they need, and provide a roadmap and timeline for them to get there.

Meryl: Right, and it's also important to follow up with the employee to confirm that they understand the expectations that are being asked of them. And also, get their written buy-in and have them sign a written acknowledgment.

Kara: Okay. So, Meryl, what's another type of difficult employee you've come across?

Meryl: Well, I think one scenario that we're all familiar with is the employee who consistently has a negative attitude. They may be averse to change, or they may be somebody who is pessimistic about new initiatives.

Kara: Yes, that type of attitude can certainly be contagious.

Meryl: Absolutely. So in an effort to help prevent negativity from spreading, it's a good idea to try to get to the root of the problem, and more than likely there's an underlying reason for the employee's negativity. So, again, meet with the employee separately, discuss their attitude, and then try to talk to them about the impact that their attitude has on the business and their coworkers.

Kristin: Yeah, and I would add that you also want to work with the employee to help identify any obstacles that they might be facing. So, for example, if it's a lack of training, you want to work with them to develop a plan to help remove those barriers. And also take the time to walk through the reasons for each change, and, again, if it's possible, you want to seek to get the employee's buy-in before you implement it. And then you want to help the employee understand how the new procedure may positively impact their work environment, and also make sure that you're checking in with them from time to time to see if those changes are, in fact, making an impact.

Kara: Also, is it possible the employee's behavior could be a result of their work environment?

Meryl: Absolutely. It's definitely possible. If the employee feels that they're not challenged or their efforts aren't rewarded, or perhaps they think their voice isn't being heard, that could absolutely trigger a negative response. And in that case, then the solution may call for addressing the work environment to help promote change.

Kara: Okay. So similar to the negative employee, how about the employee who isn't a team player?

Kristin: Yeah, well, there are definitely employees who prefer to work independently, which can also be a desirable quality. But that said, at some point in any employee's career they're going to have to collaborate with their colleagues, and they need to understand the importance of teamwork. So we would recommend assigning projects that require employees to work together, and for managers to try to create a work environment that fosters collaboration.

Kara: Wouldn't this just backfire?

Meryl: Well, it could, but maybe this type of employee would be more likely to participate if they're assigned a leadership role. So one thing you can try to do is having them lead a team or manage a project.

Kara: Okay. Got it. So how about the employee who's chronically late, takes extended breaks, or just frequently calls in sick?

Kristin: Yeah, I'm sure we all have encountered those employees from time to time. And again, you want to – with those employees you want to set appropriate expectations, and also refer them back to your attendance and punctuality policy. But you also want to listen and be mindful of the reasons that the employee is providing you as to why they may be coming in late or being absent, or calling out sick, because that reason may be a protected one. And then finally, managers also need to be role models. So if employees see the manager coming in late or taking extended breaks, then they're likely to follow suit.

Kara: Yeah, those are all great points. So what type of information should be included in an attendance policy?

Meryl: So there are several pieces of information we would recommend, including the policy should let employees know that they're expected to report to work on time, that they're expected to return from breaks on schedule, and they should leave only once their shift is over, or they have otherwise been authorized to leave. Your policy should also include procedures for calling in sick. We typically recommend that the employee speak with their direct supervisor, if possible, and if not, have an alternative contact if they can't reach their direct supervisor.

And then, keep in mind you should be referencing your other policies on leave to let the employee know that their absences will be treated in accordance with the applicable leave policies that you have, such as for paid time off or for sick leave. And finally, it's always important to let employees know that they could be subject to disciplinary action if they fail to follow the policy that you've laid out.

Kara: Okay. And, Kristin, remind me. What happens if the employee violates company policy?

Kristin: So in this situation you want to certainly discuss the issue with the employee; let them know that their conduct is violating your company's policy. You may also want to consider discipline, but before you take any action it's really important to understand the reason for the employee's absence or lateness. Because, as I mentioned earlier, that employee may be subject to certain protections. So, for example, if the employee is late due to a certain medical condition, you may have to consider possible accommodations, such as modifying their work hours. And another thing is you can't subject to an employee to disciplinary action for any absence that's going to be protected under the law. And then I also want to add that in cases where you may be able to take disciplinary action, you just want to be sure that any action you're taking is consistent with your policy and any past practice.

Kara: Okay. Great. So are there any other difficult employees that come to mind?

Meryl: Sure. Let's talk about the know-it-all employee. So this employee has done it all, and they've seen it all, and they think they know the answer to every problem, and how to approach every obstacle. Because of this, they may be quick to dismiss other people's ideas, and they also may be reluctant to change, since they do everything so well. But with all that said, they also probably have valuable expertise and experience to offer your company.

Kara: Right, and the way you're describing it a know-it-all can definitely be difficult to talk to. So how should an employer approach a conversation with this type of employee?

Meryl: Right, this could be tricky, but again, I think it's important to explain to the employee how their behavior is impacting their coworkers, their team, both positively and negatively. And then think about ways that you can capitalize on that employee's strengths, and their knowledge, and you may want to think about offering them the opportunity to use their knowledge and their expertise to train other employees.

Kara: Mm-hmm, okay. Any other scenarios that come to mind?

Kristin: I think we can think about the opposite end of the know-it-all spectrum, so that's the employee that is extremely hard on themselves, and despite their many accomplishments they consistently feel like they're falling short. So because of this, they may be hesitant to make decisions, or to speak up, and they may come across as a little bit needy, always looking to seek extra approval from their manager before taking any action.

Meryl: Right, and in this situation it's important to recognize that employee's efforts, and provide them with consistent and constructive feedback, and then try to reward and acknowledge even small wins to help make them feel better about their knowledge and their strengths.

Kara: Yeah, that's great. And, Kristin, I'm glad you mentioned what I would classify as the "self-doubter". At face value it may not seem like this person is difficult, but their attitude can certainly cause frustration. As a manager you definitely want your employees to feel empowered to make decisions without the need for hand holding. Do you have any additional advice for our listeners?

Kristin: I would say that when it comes to any difficult employee, it's important to address the issue as soon as possible, and probably in a factual manner where you can cite examples. And then work with that employee to find a path towards resolution. And certainly do not wait for things to resolve themselves, because the problem is likely only to get worse.

Meryl: Absolutely, and I always like to add that it's important to document all of these conversations, and then make sure that you're monitoring your employee's progress and setting up a time to follow up with them.

Kara: Great. Well, thank you so much Kristin and Meryl. We want to thank you all for listening to HR{preneur}. Again, I'm Kara Murray, and for all of the latest episode subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Podcast Overview

HR{preneur}, a podcast by ADP's Small Business Services, is designed to help you get the insight you need in order to tackle day-to-day workplace issues. In each episode, you'll hear from industry experts about the latest in HR, such as the #MeToo movement, evolving marijuana laws, and more. Each episode will be between 10 and 15 minutes long, but full of practical advice. Find us on Apple® Podcasts or visit the HR{preneur} podcast page on Podbean.

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