Skip to main content

Every company faces the challenge of how to deal with difficult employees. Dealing with difficult employees is a problem many managers or supervisors must encounter. Every workplace is guaranteed to contain a variety of personalities, working practises, and perspectives. While this diversity can strengthen the team and encourage innovation, it can also provide difficulties when managing challenging employees. These circumstances, which can include recurrent attitude issues, a history of poor performance, or breakdowns in communication, can be taxing and unpleasant for managers and supervisors.

This blog explores the definition of a “difficult employee,” the relationship between engagement and negative behaviour, and what you can do as a manager/supervisor to manage challenging people for a happier, more productive workplace. This blog will demonstrate the significance of human resources and how hiring an HR consultant can help you deal with difficult employees.

What is a difficult employee?

An employee who consistently displays behaviour, attitudes, or actions that interfere with the team’s performance, morale, or overall functioning is referred to as a difficult employee. Such actions may have a negative effect on the employee’s performance as well as the productivity and well-being of their coworkers and the organisation.

Employees who are difficult to work with might pose problems at work and exhibit a variety of behaviours. These are the three main categories of challenging workers:

The Negative Naysayer: People who fall under this category of workers frequently exhibit a negative outlook. They are quick to criticise concepts, procedures, or modifications, frequently without proposing workable alternatives. By spreading negativity, the employee can lower team morale and obstruct development.

The Uncooperative Employee: This employee is unwilling to cooperate, work in a team, or abide by corporate rules. They could be averse to change, disobey orders, or do tasks inadequately. The obstinate person can sabotage team dynamics and undermine project achievement.

The Chronic Complainer: Employees who frequently express unhappiness with their workload, coworkers, or work environment are known as chronic complainers. Even though criticism is valuable, persistent whining without an effort to identify solutions can poison the workplace and reduce productivity.

8 ways on how to deal with difficult employees

1.     Critiquing Behaviour, not people

When faced with a challenging employee, aim to centre your approach on the employee’s distinct actions and conduct rather than passing judgments. Help in rectifying behaviours that contribute to the challenges encountered.

Address the unfavourable behaviour by drawing attention to it without engaging in confrontations that might provoke hostility and hinder resolution. Offer concrete instances of their adverse demeanour and actions to facilitate their comprehension of the issue. It’s possible that employees are unaware of their challenging behaviour.

We spoke with a representative from HR World and they agreed. They stated that ‘the suggestion is to make time to listen to them and see what are they unsatisfied with. Oftentimes people who have problematic behavior do it in spite of things or because they might be unsatisfied. They need someone to listen to their point of view. Open communication like this may make them feel seen and heard, and it is also good for making a joint agreement on how to solve the problem/situation that bothers them’

2.     Identify the issue

The factors driving an employee’s behaviour are distinct for every individual. That’s why it’s crucial to uncover the underlying causes before tackling the issue.

These causes might stem from: Their job responsibilities, interactions with fellow coworkers, personal challenges that hinder their job performance. As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to delve into the core issue and find a solution.

3.     Accept Feedback


Problematic behaviour may be a result of how an employee feels about and interacts with their workplace. Managers must be receptive to criticism. This might be a problem with management or whatever else your employee is having with the company.

Make a setting where your colleague feels comfortable voicing their ideas. Make sure you grasp what they are saying by practising active listening. Pay attention to your employee’s perspective without passing judgement. A tough individual may occasionally simply require a sympathetic ear. This frequently aids in altering their mindset and actions.

4.     Give Clear instructions

Your challenging coworker needs to comprehend what you expect of them for change to take place. If there is tension in your relationship, you must first get them to open and let down their guard. After that, provide them with in-depth criticism of their behaviour while mentioning instances.

5.     Outline expectations

Together with your coworker, note any changes to expectations or behaviour. Create a plan with clear objectives, a timetable, and frequent progress reviews. You will both understand one other on this basis.

It’s also crucial to keep track of any negative effects of not altering behaviour as needed. If someone has a clear plan and is aware of the repercussions of not acting, they are more likely to take the situation seriously.

6.     Monitor progress

You must keep an eye on the difficult employee’s development after creating a strategy for them. By assisting them in doing so, you may ensure that they meet their objectives on schedule. How to do it:

  • Obtain opinions from colleagues
  • Analyse the calibre of their work
  • Hold frequent one-on-one conversations
  • Periodically, report your observations.
  • Utilise these reports to assess the employee’s performance.

7.     Be calm and respectful

It’s never simple to give someone negative advice or dismiss them. People frequently become irritated when tensions rise. Maintaining composure and avoiding criticism or judgement is crucial for managers. Keep your tone neutral and your body language consistent.

Maintain an honest, professional, and respectful demeanour while concentrating on the facts. People can be challenging at times if they feel unappreciated. Before making a dramatic decision, you should determine what is causing their behaviour.

8.     Be proactive

A thorough hiring procedure might reduce the number of challenging employees. Every applicant should be exposed to a background investigation, and the hiring manager should consider the candidates’ conduct in prior roles as well as the reasons they left or were fired. An interviewer can find warning signs that could indicate poor behaviour by doing a behavioural interview.

Relationship between engagement, dissatisfaction and difficult behaviour

The civil service management board asked 26,822 workers in 2022 to complete an employee engagement survey, 75% continue to feel highly engaged and 53% of Civil Servants continue to feel unhappy with how performance is managed. Also, only 42% of staff believe that they will have the opportunity to be promoted if they perform well, while only 36% of staff believe that their department has a clear and fair promotion process.

Additionally, a Gallup survey conducted in 2022 found that only 32% of full- and part-time employees are engaged, while 17% are “actively disengaged.” Productivity, profitability, retention, safety, customer service, and employee well-being are all considered engagement indicators. Employees who are actively disengaged are dissatisfied and dishonest because they feel their needs at work are not being met.

While having highly engaged individuals can be very advantageous for a business, disengaged people are less productive, and unruly behaviour can be detrimental to coworkers. These behaviours, such as complacency, absenteeism, withdrawal, or a drop in the calibre of their work, make the employee challenging to work with.


In conclusion, managing difficult employees successfully is a complex problem that calls for a well-balanced approach that combines proactive tactics, empathy, and communication. You’ll be well-equipped to negotiate the difficulties that arise when dealing with difficult team members if you adhere to the recommendations provided in this detailed handbook. Keep in mind that every circumstance is different, and while applying regulations and procedures consistently, customise your response to the person.

In the end, adopting a proactive approach, encouraging open communication, and providing support can result in a more peaceful workplace, improved team chemistry, and increased general productivity. By putting these tactics into practise, you’re not only resolving the current problems but also promoting an effective organisational culture that thrives on cooperation, advancement, and respect for one another.

Hire The HR Suite Today!

Ready to transform your approach to managing difficult employees?  The HR Suite can help you create a more uplifting and effective workplace, start putting these proven methods into practise. Remember that a successful organisation relies on efficient employee management, we provide multiple HR Training courses to achieve this such as; Influencing, time management, workplace wellbeing, dignity and respect in the workplace and much more.

Accept the chance to turn difficulties into chances for development. Act right away to create a workplace that is more successful and runs more smoothly. Here is where your path to better personnel management begins; let’s work together to make it a reality.

Cathy Behan

Cathy Behan, Head of Learning & Development. Cathy has overall responsible for learning & development support and strategy for our clients, while leading an experienced training team. Cathy has worked on developing diversity and inclusion training offerings for our clients, which has involved extensive research into Diversity & Inclusion measures and strategies across business, what is best practice and looking at strategies and every day measures to create an inclusive workplace. In a previous role Cathy was responsible for Learning & Development strategy development, approval by Board members and implementation across head office and multi site operations.