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How to manage problem employees

Cleo Chaisty - The Hub Events

We spend most of our waking hours with the people we work with, so getting along with them as much as possible is crucial. That being said, between different personality types, tension within the workplace, or someone simply having a bad day, it’s impossible to get on with everyone all the time.

There are always one or two people in every company that, for different reasons, are particularly difficult – and clash with their colleagues more frequently. Through a combination of habits and idiosyncrasies, such employees pose a problem for the people they work with.

But what do you do when such a person isn’t just your colleague but someone that reports to you? How do you not only get along with, but also manage, and get the best out of, problematic employees? This article examines five common types of problem employees that you might encounter and how to deal with each:

The Sloth
This type of employee consistently does as little as they can get away with. Their ‘low energy’ work ethic sees them scrambling at the last minute to meet deadlines, or just missing them entirety. They’re also frequently late, whether it’s arriving for work, returning from lunch, or taking unnecessarily long toilet or cigarette breaks.

Often, Sloths keep their jobs because they’re extremely likeable, perhaps they’re even the office clown. Plus, when pulled up on their lack of productivity, they may change their ways for a while, before slowly returning to their old ways – giving them a lifeline.

You can deal with a Sloth thorough frank, serious conversation, in which you clearly state that their performance is unacceptable. If possible, show them cold, hard data: Their performance metrics, number of times they’ve been late, or missed deadlines, and then compare them against their colleagues. Ask what they think would happen to the business if everyone performed as they did. If they consistently underperform and flout the company’s rules, you may have to offer an ultimatum, in order for them to change their ways. This could force a significant turning point but, if not, you’d have done all you could, and you’ll have to part ways.

The Egomaniac is the most self-absorbed employee in an organisation, completely convinced of their own great ability despite any evidence otherwise. This kind of person has an inflated view of their qualities and abilities, while reluctant to acknowledge those of their colleagues. Consequently, they’re poor team players: taking as much credit as possible, while deflecting blame if things go wrong. Naturally, this doesn’t make them very popular, and the Egomaniac is often the subject of angry emails or an exchange of knowing glances between exasperated colleagues.

However, while the Egomaniac has an inflated view of their ability, they are often actually talented – hence why their unhelpful bluster is tolerated. Also, the Egomaniac’s overconfidence sees this type of employee putting themselves forward for projects and tasks. A great trait when mixed with humility and a willingness to learn from one’s mistakes – but not for the Egomaniac, who doesn’t admit fault or ask for help. This can result in projects they’re in charge of ending in disaster.

To deal with the Egomaniac, it’s best to understand them. This kind of person’s overconfidence is usually the result of overcompensating for an insecurity, so seek it out in order to understand empathise with them better. Plus, if they are genuinely talented at one area, try to steer them as close to that function as possible.

If, on the other hand, they have no particular talent to justify their high opinion of themselves, they may need a reality check: In a future evaluation, tell them what they’re doing well, as well as highlighting, with evidence, the things they’re not doing so well at. This might just be the jolt they need to fix their attitude while getting closer to becoming the person they think they are.

The Gossip
The Gossip revels in knowing and spreading every rumour or nugget of information going around the company. The rumour doesn’t even have to be true – it just needs to be juicy enough to pass along. As a result, they’re seen as a source of information by their colleagues, which, when combined with their outgoing nature, can make them quite popular in the office.

A key trait of the gossip is that they’re experts at reconstructing events to suit their agenda, so they appear blameless in all situations. This often makes them consummate politicians, with more Machiavellian Gossips able to turn their allies against target of their choice.

The best way to deal with a Gossip depends on how damaging their behaviour is and how valuable they are to the company. For a mild offence, in which they’ve caused or acerbated a small problem, it can usually be solved with a firm warning for them to keep things professional and refrain from office chatter. If applicable, remind them of your company’s code of conduct.

A more extreme form of a Gossip, one that has a detrimental effect on the morale of your team or business – simply has to go. This may require a more strategic approach, where you slowly collect proof of their misdeeds over a period of time, leaving them no defence when it comes to confronting them.

The Martyr
At first glance, the Martyr doesn’t appear to be a problem employee: They’re the type to put forth Herculean efforts to get the job done and will take on anything that’s given to them – even if it’s outside their area of competence. They pride themselves on being a workhorse, and, more importantly, being known as one.

The problem starts, however, with their insistence on doing everything themselves and their refusal to accept help. Worse still, they tend to complain, often, about how busy they are. The Martyr will invariably respond to ‘how are you?’ with a laboured sigh and some variation of ‘really busy’.

The best way to deal with the Martyr is to recognise their efforts. They’re useful and productive but the problem lies in their attitude to their workload and the effect it can have on everyone else, and their inability to delegate. In fact, teach the Martyr to delegate and they could go from problem to promising…

The Pessimist
The Pessimist seems to have the weight of the world on their shoulders and always appears to be a in a low mood. They’re usually quiet, and thus harmless, save for the poor soul that gets caught in a conversation with them: About how bad the weather is, how the economy is going down the tube, or (courtesy of the Gossip) their glass-half-empty take on the latest company rumours.

Professionally, they tend to have a negative view of their own ability and potential, conducting themselves accordingly. They stick to the little they’re sure of and resent having to venture outside their comfort zone, and will rarely, if ever, put themselves forward for anything.  The pessimist can often found working at the same company for several years, doing the same job with no upward movement.

With the Pessimist, the best approach is to listen. Ask how they are see if there’s going on in their personal life that may be affecting their demeanour at work. If need be, make it clear you’re available to talk or offer professional support for their mental health if necessary. Simply showing concern and allowing them to feel heard can be effective.

To address their apathy for their role, ask what they’re interested in and what they’d like to work on. Have a frank discussion about their prospects and where they see themselves – maybe even addressing the possibility this job isn’t for them. Sometimes a new role or project is what’s needed to switch up a negative attitude and inject some energy into an employee.

Unfortunately, bumping into one of the above personality types, as well as variations and combinations of them, is inevitable – we have little choice in the matter. However, you can choose how you react to them and, as a result, how they affect you and everyone around them. Better still, understanding how to do is so is a skill that you can learn and improve.

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