From Hire to Fire: How Small Businesses Should Deal with Difficult Employees

Whether your business entails working in a small office environment, within a brick-and-mortar shop or even remotely online and spread across vast distances, it’s always a challenge to work with difficult people.

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A problematic employee can create a host of issues not just for business owners, but for colleagues and management as well. Not only do they have a direct impact on productivity and general morale, employees in contact with customers represent your brand. If a particularly ornery employee is unfriendly with a customer, that’s going to affect your reputation and possibly future sales.

How do you deal with these kinds of people? Here are a few suggestions.

Don’t Ignore the Source of the Problem(s)

There’s a problem — you know it’s there, and you most likely know who the source is. Get in front of it as soon as possible. It goes without saying that identifying violent employees should always be a priority, especially when the safety of your other workers or customers is at stake.

Once you’ve determined the employee causing problems, meet with them and try to get to the bottom of the issue.

Do they lack in performance because of personal or at-home issues? Do they simply not like the work responsibilities? Do they have other concerns, such as wages?

If you’re willing to work with the employee, it’s obvious they are valuable to your operation. So, you should be ready to invest the time and effort it takes to help them improve.

It’s important to remember that there are many different types of high-risk employees. From those with low engagement to those who are highly experienced and sought after by other firms, it’s vital to identify what kind of employee they are before taking action.

Work Collaboratively to Find Solutions

After discovering the source, it’s time to move on to potential solutions. Think of it like any other problem solving or troubleshooting strategy.

Take time to meet with the employee and encourage open communication to identify potential solutions. Maybe working with a more experienced employee can help them gain the necessary skills. Perhaps they are having trouble with other workers and would prefer solo duties instead, or maybe a move to another position or location is in order.

Do they even know their performance is lacking and why? It’s possible they may not even understand they’re causing issues. This also helps communicate to the employee(s) that there is, in fact, a problem, and it’s on them to make corrections.

Allow Your Employee to Respond

Throughout your correction or improvement process, you should allow your employee ample opportunity to respond to what’s happening. Their insight could prove valuable to the outcome. Be sure to get to the bottom of how they feel and how this affects their performance and duties.

It’s also a good idea to meet with the employee regularly and collaboratively discuss progress. If they are improving, for example, let them know and provide the appropriate praise. If they are not improving, it’s just as important to discuss as well.

If your employee refuses to acknowledge there’s even a problem, then it may be necessary to involve other parties in the process. A colleague or peer, for example, could better explain how one person’s actions affect the rest of the team.

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Employ Coaching or Training Sessions

After identifying negative behaviors or actions, it might be appropriate to have another team member work with them to achieve a set goal. A colleague or peer working alongside them is better than someone being left to their own vices. It’s also a good idea — no matter who coaches them — to offer regular praise and insight when behaviors are more acceptable or positive. As the old adage goes, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Be sure to give the employee ample time to improve and change their behaviors, as well as ample time to adjust to feedback or reviews.

Explore Personalized Roles and Opportunities

Sometimes, an employee is valuable and can offer a lot of assistance to a company or team, but they simply don’t fit within the boundaries of their current role. It may be possible to either create a new position entirely or restructure the team so that they have a more personalized position that fits their skills and talents.

Obviously, this is not something you’d want to do with a problematic employee. If you do consider creating or moving an employee, it’s something to explore behind-the-scenes. It can be beneficial to have open discussions with the employee about their strengths and weakness to better identify a position. In the end, however, the decision to change individual roles should be handled by the manager or business owner.

If All Else Fails

At some point, you have to hang up your hat. When it comes to problematic or challenging employees, if you’ve exhausted all potential solutions, then it may very well be time to remove them from the equation altogether.

It is extremely important that you document your efforts, so there’s a paper trail of repeated performance dips and questionable behavior or actions. When there’s no other recourse, termination of employment becomes necessary. Consult with an employment specialist if you’re unsure how to correctly fire an employee and avoid any legal blowback.

If you’re managing employees, the SmartBiz Small Business Blog has a host of articles offering ideas and guidance. Check out these posts.

 

About the Author

Nathan Sykes is a business and technology writer from Pittsburgh, PA. To read more by Nathan, check out his blog, Finding an Outlet.

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