Most people who have to manage employees encounter at least one employee that is challenging in his or her career. Reasons these employees are challenging can be anything from poor performance, having a difficult personality, not finishing tasks that are assigned, etc. Unfortunately, dealing with difficult employees takes up a tremendous amount of time and takes away from engaging with high performing employees.  Left unchecked, other employees may follow suit and become challenging themselves and further spread dissention within your organization.

Here are 7dissension may help in managing challenging employees:   

  1. Listen – Listening to an employee that causes you grief is extremely difficult, but it is one of the most important things you can do as a manager. You must try to focus on what the employee is saying instead of what you want to say next. Try to visualize the employee’s issue from their eyes to see if you can gain some perspective on why the employee is a challenge to work with. Does he/she feel like they are treated differently or that you favor other employees over them? You may even find there is something going on in your group that you weren’t aware of.
  2. Learn to provide constructive feedback – Providing feedback to employees (even great employees) is often the most difficult part of a manager’s job. No one wants to hear how they did not perform a task as good as the next employee.  By not providing feedback however the employee will not improve their skills and abilities because they won’t know any better.  It is important the feedback provides two things; lower the person’s defensiveness and give a solution for fixing the issue. This can be done through a compliment sandwich. Give praise, state the issue, state the possible fix for the issue, and give more praise. The possible fix should be detailed and let the employee know exactly what is needed to improve or fix the problem at hand. 
  3. Documentation is key- When you start to have problems with an employee, write down the key points. Make sure these are facts and not opinions. If worse comes to worst and you need to demote or terminate the employee, you will have to have the documentation to do so. A car dealer would not let you drive off their lot without the required documentation and you can’t move into your dream house if all of your documentation is not in order. The bottom line: if it is not documented the event never happened.


  1. Should be specific
  2. Should be actual written summaries of incidents noting date, time, location, and persons involved.
  • May include memos and letters
  1. Should include relevant work documents
  2. May include meeting notes
  3. Includes performance evaluations
  • May include other relevant paperwork to document your workplace problem – investigation interviews, witness statements, etc.
  1. Set consequences – If you have provided constructive feedback and things still aren’t improving good managers set consequences and follow through. The employee should be told that the manager still believes they can turn things around, but if not the manager will explain what is going to happen next.   This is usually an if/then statement. If you don’t start coming into work by 8:00am you will be written up. If you don’t start turning in your work on time, you may be let go.  Be consistent with your employees and follow through with the stated consequences.  Employees will stop listening if there are no teeth to your policies.
  2. Be careful who you confide in – A good manager does not bad mouth or complain about the challenging employee and does not let other employees bad mouth employees either. They should talk to their supervisor or above to get ideas for how to handle the challenging employee. If they engage the employee’s co-workers or lateral colleagues, it could affect the employee morale of the whole department or organization. They will also start to wonder what the manager is saying about them as well.
  3. Manage your internal dialog – A manager should go into the situation with an open mind. If they go into the situation thinking nothing will change that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they go into the situation overly positive, they may be disappointed when things go wrong. Again, I think it is best if you stick to the facts and not opinions when handling a challenging employee. According to, “Good managers take a fair witness stance, making sure that what they say to themselves about the situation is as accurate as possible.” For example, “His behavior is creating real problems for the team. I’m doing what I can to support him to change. If he does, great, and if he doesn’t, I’ll do what I’ve said I’ll do.”
  4. Develop an employee performance plan together – When trying to decide what to do in a certain situation, engage the challenging employee.
  • Does the situation need coaching (specific behavior modification), counseling (focuses on problem behaviors and comes with consequences), training (supports skills development and addresses knowledge gaps), or discipline (an immediate improvement program with implications)?
  • Develop SMART goals with the employee. Their buy-in to the situation may help make achieve the goals and improve the situation as a whole.

You never truly know what this employee is going through. Socrates is credited with saying, ” Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  Try putting yourself in their shoes. You have no idea what is going on in this “challenging” employee’s life. Try showing the employee compassion and understanding. If the situation doesn’t improve you will have to act to avoid the disintegration of employee morale from the other employees you manage.

Managing your employee workforce is one of the most time-consuming aspects of owning a business. Let the Payroll Source Group handle all your payroll needs to free up your time to focus on the employee aspect of your business.

By Betsy Drellack

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