How to Manage Difficult Employees

The key to a successful organization is maintaining an environment where everyone works together cohesively to achieve a common goal. The reality, however, is that there will inevitably be times when employees display inappropriate, disruptive, or unprofessional behaviors. When this happens, it is important to address these employees right away before their behavior begins to negatively impact those around them. If the behaviors are not corrected, this could result in significant negative consequences to the organization and its employees. Difficult employees can create a toxic work environment which can lead to higher staff turnover, lower performance, and poor customer relations. While it’s not easy, it is necessary to resolve conflict and address these challenges head on. The following tips and strategies will help you learn how to manage difficult employees. 

Provide Training 

One of the best ways to manage difficult employees is to provide training that will help prevent problems in the first place. Preventative, ongoing training can lay the groundwork for employees to understand the behavioral expectations of their managers. Train employees on the proper way to handle conflict within the office as well as expectations regarding gossiping, bullying, incivility, and insubordination. Training can help to curb some of these problems and can help employees develop an awareness of proper business etiquette. 

Listen and Identify the Problem

One of the main reasons employees are difficult is because they don’t feel like their voice is being heard. Perhaps they are irritated or frustrated about something, but they don’t feel like anyone around them cares, so they begin exhibiting negative behaviors. Great managers learn to be attentive when someone isn’t doing well and they make it a point to listen to the employee’s point of view. When an employee feels heard, you may be able to address the root of the problem. 

Give Clear Feedback

Employees cannot fix their behavior if they don’t know how. It’s up to the manager to provide actual feedback that outlines the problem behaviors. This must be done in a way that lowers the other person’s defensiveness while also giving the employee specific information about how they can improve. Give specific examples of the inappropriate behavior as well as appropriate behaviors that you expect so the employee understands exactly what is expected of them in the future. 

Stay Calm and Be Respectful

It can be challenging to manage your own emotions when you are dealing with a difficult employee. However, it is important that you set a positive tone from the beginning and demonstrate the kind of respect that you expect from your employee. If you approach the situation with a negative attitude, there’s a good chance that your employee will get defensive as well. Good leadership means showing compassion and professionalism even in the face of challenging situations. 


If you are having significant issues with an employee you must write it down and document their behavior. It is important that you keep a valid record of such problems should you need to terminate their employment as a result. Good managers understand that documentation isn’t about being negative, it’s about being prudent. 

Write Down Expectations and Specific Consequences

Not only is it important to document the employee’s behavior for your own records, but it’s important to document behavioral expectations together. Write down a specific plan and establish clear objectives. Let your employees know when you will be checking in to reevaluate progress. You also need to document any consequences that will occur should the employee fail to make the necessary behavioral changes.