What’s the Problem with “Problem Employees”?

What’s the Problem with Problem Employees - People Development Network
What’s the Problem with Problem Employees - People Development Network

How do you deal with problem employees?

There is no better sign of a misguided manager than when they shift blame to their subordinates. The decision to throw people under the bus has seemingly limitless negative effects. It simultaneously proves to superiors that a leader failed to develop their team, and to the team that their leader isn’t trustworthy.  However, “problem employees” (or, more accurately, employees exhibiting problem behaviors) are a real thing. Take the initiative to address their issues before anyone has to play the blame game.

Provide numerous and varied feedback channels

As much as it can sometimes seem otherwise, no one truly wants to be a problem employee. There is always something happening under the surface that is causing the problem. Make sure that every employee has a method that they feel comfortable with to provide leadership with feedback. You might find that the issue holding the employee back is easily fixable, but they just didn’t have an outlet they felt comfortable with using to express their concerns.

Even if the issue winds up being something you can’t directly address (problems at home for instance), a sympathetic ear might be all your team member needs to get themselves back on track. Make sure you keep it professional, though, allowing the line between coworker and friend to blur can lead to worse problems later.

Give consistent and pervasive feedback

It can be hard to believe, but sometimes problem employees aren’t even aware that they are causing their leaders consternation, especially if their leader has a fear of conflict. How can they know if no one tells them?

While these conversations can be difficult, you can set yourself up for success by ensuring your feedback comes in a consistent manner. One of the responsibilities as a team leader is to provide a firm, unemotional base that your team can rely on. Feedback that comes as a surprise is to be avoided, however, a complex or strictly-scheduled system is not necessary. All you need to ensure is that feedback, positive and negative, comes regularly and in a consistent fashion. If your team knows what to expect, they will be more receptive to your guidance

Follow through with consequences

Discipline is naturally (and should be) the final strategy for correcting problem behaviors. Motivating through a fear of reprisal is not an effective recipe for a healthy team. However, providing discipline for problem behaviors is more important for the rest of the team than the employee in question. Your people need to know that you take their success seriously. Allowing an employee skate without consequences for their negative actions shows the rest of the team that following rules and positively contributing to culture is a fool’s game. Even if the worst happens and termination becomes necessary, at least the rest of the team knows that you feel their success is more important than a fear of conflict or an unwillingness to deal with red tape.

Everyone has to deal with problem behaviors at some point as a leader, but it often isn’t as difficult as it may seem. If you provide a strong, consistent, and even-keeled presence as a manager, and ensure that your team is comfortable expressing themselves, then the problem behaviors you encounter will pale in comparison to the success your team will achieve.

Abraham May
I have spent over a decade helping trainees and established employees flourish in the QSR, Retail, and Tech industries. My goal in any context is to help people grow into active contributors to both the bottom line and healthy culture.
Abraham May

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