Managing difficult employees: Things you need to know

Monday November 22 2021
New Content Item (1)
By Business Daily Africa

When conducting our weekly meeting, I let the staff know that they needed to take up more responsibilities to make up for the gap left by employees who we let go due to the pandemic until things improved. George, a sales officer, was not happy. His tone expressed anger and he kept conveying pessimism to every idea that was suggested.

He refused to contribute to the shared responsibilities which led others picking up his work resulting in low productivity and missed deadlines. He also kept getting in trouble with everyone.’’

This was Kamau, a business owner who shared his experience during leadership training.

Unfortunately for Kamau, he did not deal with George’s attitude immediately after the meeting which made George quite comfortable acting this way.

As a result, someone from the sales department left and Kamau heard rumors that other staff from the department were planning to leave. He also got feedback that clients were not happy with the service provided and the ones George was handling were talking to competitors, something that was unheard of.

If you are in a similar situation and you are wondering how to correctly handle this, consider the following;


1. Have clear HR policies and procedures in place

HR Policies and procedures help guide and set expectations to help govern work, behavior, interactions and management of employees.

These documents help you improve the way your employees interact and work. They help minimize personnel challenges in the work place that arise while protecting the business from legal charges.

They will help you make the employee understand that that kind of behavior is not encouraged and that there is a proper way of addressing their problems in reference to the guides provided. They also help you manage such an employee.

Policies help you make informed decisions going forward and ensure that you are in line with the employment law.

2. Seek to understand the issue by listening to learn

Consider meeting the employee in private and have a conversation to know what happened.

Employees will appreciate it when you listen to them actively as it might encourage them to share more. Sometimes, an employee may be acting out because of grief of having lost someone or they may be dealing with a personal problem that would make them act out.

Consider having an open mind to ensure you do not have prior bias towards an individual.

Being clear by citing the employee’s behavior, their impact and your expectations of their behavior and allowing them to ask questions allows you to know whether you are on the same page.

It is also important to document the meeting for future accountability and reference.

3. Consider team building activities

Incorporating team building activities bring everyone together to contribute towards a common goal to improve coordination, communication, trust and team work in the workplace.

Such activities may help prevent negative attitudes from negative employees if they feel part of the firm.

4. Focus on creating a safe learning environment

Employees will be more innovative where they feel safe to take calculated risks without fear of consequences.

Encouraging employees to contribute to meetings if they feel they have a different opinion, or implementing their out-of-the-box ideas helps them be more creative and engaged.

Sometimes, only through failure, will employees learn. You can consider guiding them throughout these processes and also training them to handle their job better.

However, if you see no improvement from the said employee, consider giving a warning letter.

If this persists, you might want to consider termination. Acting legally by referring to the HR policies and procedures is crucial to avoid legal actions.


When it comes to managing difficult employees, addressing the issues promptly helps prevent them from affecting the workplace environment. Equipping yourself with leadership skills and conflict management skills to know how to deal with such issues is important.