Every company should run like a smoothly oiled machine with every employee fulfilling their roles in order for the company to grow and succeed. However, if one of your employees is a “bad” employee and not pulling their weight, or actively working against the company, it can throw a wrench into your machine and disrupt all of the operations.
Whether it be a new hire or a long-time worker, bad employees will come in many forms. Some undermine their managers, some will avoid doing work, some do not deliver on time or do poor-quality work. If nothing is done to improve their performance, bad employees will drag down the company and can end up poisoning their coworker attitudes resulting in serious damage to your company’s performance and culture.
What do you do if you end up in one of these “bad employee” scenarios? How can you improve their performance for the good of the company, and for your own sanity?
We reached out to leaders and specialists for different ways to deal with difficult employees. Here are some of their responses.
Clarify job descriptions, expectations, and plans for the future
Sometimes poor behaviour can be easily resolved by setting a clear plan and career pathway together. Knowing what your expectations are will let them know what behaviour is appropriate, and will give them direction and purpose.
Rob Mead from Gnatta says,
“The first question with difficult employees is why are they difficult? If it is them and the way they behave, you need to be open and honest. Discuss (within your HR framework) the issues and help develop a plan with their input for going forward."
It’s important to make clear this is necessary for their continuing to develop in the organization.
If the employee contributes to the planning process, they will also be more willing to act on it and improve. Make sure they know your company’s career pathway and their potential for growth within your company, but be realistic about it as well.
Rob goes on to say that “whilst it can be tempting to sell a potential role based on where you see it being a year from now, it’s important to acknowledge the immediate day to day reality to prevent causing friction with new team members.”
Have a one-one sit-down
If you're having an issue with a certain employee, it's important to sit down with them and have an open discussion about their behaviour. It's best not to come off as threatening, but you still need to be taken seriously as the boss.
Eddie Chu, the Owner of Qualicare Ottawa, has this advice for dealing with difficult employees:
"Try to understand what's causing this behaviour and see what you can both do to change that. Do not give threats, but if the behaviour continues, actions will have to be taken and you need to stick to what you say. Being respectful is the best way to see change in their attitude."
This one-on-one session between manager and employee is a great way to resolve behavioural problems by developing respect in the workplace. Prepare specific examples of damaging behaviour, but focus on how to solve the problem in a constructive way. By doing this, you will also develop your relationship by showing them that you care about them beyond just the job.
Analyze your company culture
Hopefully, problem employees are isolated incidences in your workforce. If you find yourself dealing with multiple difficult employees, there might be some problems with your company culture that you will have to address.
Steve Gibson of Vyteo says that oftentimes the problem lies with the company culture as a whole or some other relational hangup.
“I once worked for a company that was a pressure cooker with its responsibilities and expectations. Not surprisingly there were a lot of people thinking other people were bad around there. It led to turnover and more stress for everyone.”
Steve's recommendation if you have bad employees is to first evaluate the company culture and see if it lends itself toward healthy and constructive interactions. "Bad" employees almost invariably think of you or the company as bad. In their eyes, they’re the good guy and the company or management is the problem.
You should always be making improvements to your company culture so that your employees are happy and engaged so that they don’t have reasons to justify their bad behaviours.
Use Employee Improvement Plans
Robin Schwartz, PHR at MFG Jobs, had an employee that failed to meet deadlines which affected her performance. Despite having multiple conversations about why this was an issue, the employee failed to communicate work-related concerns with her supervisor in a timely fashion. Instead of agreeing to go to her supervisor with issues, she had an explanation and an excuse for everything, but still couldn’t her work done on time.
In order to deal with the situation, the employee was put on a performance improvement plan. Robin says,
“There were frank discussions about why she couldn’t make independent decisions about deadlines without consulting her supervisor. The expectations of the position were literally written out for her so there would be no future confusion.”
The improvement plan was created to help her succeed in the position, but also to make it clear that there were performance issues significant enough to warrant formal action. Employee Improvement Plans lay out the foundation for what it will take for them to contribute to the company properly and plan for the future as well. Sometimes employees need this clear structure and management to help them know how to succeed within your company.
Have a Feedback System in place
Set up times to provide feedback to your employees’ performance. Having this system will allow you to address problems as they come up instead of piling up for the once-a-year evaluation meeting. Make sure to follow up on your feedback to make sure it sticks and is being incorporated into their work performance.
Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for giffgaff, has this to say about giving feedback:
“A relationship between an employer and employee is all about progressing, improving and most importantly, listening to feedback and taking it on board. If an employee continually ignores constructive feedback and doesn’t improve on key skills that are needed to complete work to a good standard, this can progress into a real issue in the workplace.”
In order to handle this in a constructive and positive way, Steve recommends having a meeting with the said employee and discuss your concern over their attitude towards work and your previous feedback. Create a goal for them to reach so they have the chance to prove to you their ability to work hard and follow your feedback from that point forward.
This method of dealing with work issues will be respected by your employee and should be the warning they need to book their ideas up, fast.
“We help a number of small and large businesses develop open communication through regular, one question, pulse surveys, enabling employees to give in-the-moment feedback to their leaders."
In other words, managers are asking for and listening to employees concerns if they feel uncomfortable working with their peers on a regular basis, and then having open conversations as a result. Everybody will thrive in an environment with proper leadership and hard-working workers building together toward the company goals.
By using these pulse surveys, companies are able to implement new best practices before retention sinks and issues grow beyond control.
Replace quickly if needed.
For change to happen, the employee needs to be open to feedback and willing to work together with you. You should know within the first month of hiring whether or not your candidate is a good fit and has the proper attitude to make changes if needed.
Although hiring new employees can be costly, keeping one around can affect coworker attitudes and be a drain on resources. Gene from GreenPal says:
“Hire fast and fire faster. There is nothing like an employee getting into your organization that is not a good cultural fit. When you know you didn't hire properly, there are no training's that make the situation better. Some people can interview very well but are a totally different individual when they are actually in the working environment."
I know of someone who was hired at a company and went through the training, but couldn’t get the basics of their job done right. Instead of working harder to improve, this employee would take long lunches, browse through their phone, and even sneak into the bathroom to take naps! Even after meeting with managers, he would scrape by doing the bare minimum and stayed for as long as possible to get as much salary as he could.
Have a system in place to replace this type of new hires quickly if they do not meet the needs of their job description and responsibilities.