Sunday, 07 September 2014 01:00

Dealing with Difficult Employees - Part 2: Triggers

In our last article, we looked at certain behaviours to look out for to help to identify difficult employees so that appropriate action can be taken. However, we hope that it’s safe to assume that  nobody sets out to be a difficult employee, and so of equal importance to identifying difficult employees is identifying the ‘triggers’ that lead to difficult or unacceptable behaviour.

A trigger for unacceptable behaviour may be what most people would consider an innocuous change in circumstances or working environment, but for the affected employee it’s enough to radically change their conduct. Triggers might include:

●  A New Boss – Many of us dislike change and a new boss may bring new ideas that will affect the status quo or ‘the way we’ve always done things around here’, which can be enough to provoke animosity.

●  New Responsibilities – Businesses often have to modify working practices or introduce new ones in order to expand or remain competitive. With new practices comes new responsibilities that the workforce will need to take on and some employees may not be ready to do so, particularly if there is no increase in pay.
●  New Technology – Again, a change in working practices or the need to accept and embrace new technology which may require re-training, can often cause resentment.

●  Failure by a Manager to Deal with Underperformers – Staff will generally know who isn’t pulling their weight in a business and if the underperformers aren’t dealt with appropriately it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the productivity of others begins to wane. Why should they make the effort if others are getting away with it?

●  Poorly Handled Disciplinary Issue – Because an employee has to be disciplined, it doesn’t mean that a grudge should arise. Indeed, properly managed it should clear the air and allow everyone to get on with their jobs. A badly managed disciplinary however can easily leave a bitter taste.

Many events may be triggers because they undermine the employee’s confidence or put them into a situation they are uncomfortable with or have no experience of. In an effort to save face and avoid admitting defeat, the employee takes on the new behaviour to disguise their shortcomings.

Once a clearer understanding of the employee’s behaviour has been obtained, and their problem behaviour trigger has been identified, a systematic approach of providing counselling or training can be applied, with disciplinary action being subsequently taken if performance does not improve. Counselling an employee who has started coming in to work late since he was assigned a new boss may remedy a situation without the need for disciplinary action, or sales refresher training may be all that is needed for the bolshie salesman who has just had his targets re-appraised.

Although there are no hard and fast rules in managing difficult employees, preventative measures are likely to be the most effective. Clearly defined job descriptions and a comprehensive induction programme will leave employees in no doubt of what their duties are and what is expected of them by the company.

Similarly, well-conducted, regular appraisals will help anticipate and identify problems, which can be dealt with before they develop into a crisis. Effective communication practices are a must.

For more help and support with managing your team to help prevent difficult and inappropriate behaviour, call us on 01452 331331 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and don’t forget to ask us about our funded training that covers the issues raised here.


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