How to deal with difficult employees

by Andy Nguyen
Deal With Difficult Employees

Wondering how to deal with difficult employees?

Hiring people isn’t easy, and hiring the right people is even more challenging. 

Despite all your company’s efforts, sometimes, there might be a team member who stirs up hostility in the workplace.

While confronting them can be quite stressful, if you don’t take proactive steps to stop bad behavior, it can negatively impact your entire company’s morale and productivity!

Don’t worry! In this article, we will look at how to deal with difficult employees and what you should avoid in these situations.

This article covers:

(Click on the links below to go to a specific section)

Let’s get started.

Who is considered a difficult employee?

Difficult employees are those who fail to act responsibly and professionally in the workplace.

Employees who fail to conduct themselves civilly can create an environment of unpleasantness. This affects the performance of all employees and hinders their productivity. 


A difficult person can disrupt work and cause unnecessary delays for their team. This can lead to missed deadlines or even disengaged team members.

What are the types of difficult employees?

There are several types of poor employee behavior that can create an unprofessional work environment for the rest of the team.

Let’s have a look at the different types of difficult employees:

1. Insubordinate employees

While it is okay to correct your boss from time to time, employees in this category like to challenge every single decision made by the manager. 

They might be smart, but they can take it too far. Sometimes, insubordinate employees refuse to follow the manager’s directions, as they believe they know better.

Due to this, an insubordinate employee’s behavior is often considered as ‘irritating and can question the superior’s authority over time.

2. Disruptive employees

A disruptive employee frequently badgers other team members and wastes the time of every colleague. 

Employees can be disruptive in a few ways, like:

  • Disturbing other employees by discussing their personal problems, complaints, and frustrations about the company.
  • Talking loudly on their phone in a crowded room.
  • Being inconsiderate of others’ personal space.

3. Gossipers 

Employees who like to spread sensational and personal information about other employees (factual or otherwise,) fall under this category. 

It is crucial to keep a check on gossipers in an office. Very often, little harmless conversations or rumors turn into inflammatory, harmful, and embarrassing conversations for the person being targeted. 

4. Procrastinators

Procrastinators are those who constantly turn in work late and miss deadlines.

When it comes to showing up at the office, they are almost always late or call in sick. They’re also quick to provide excuses when questioned about their behavior.

While working in a team, procrastinators are slow to collaborate and cause delays in their colleagues’ work.

5. Bullies

People in this category like to treat people in an offensive or unsafe manner. 

A bully is likely to pick out the mistakes of every coworker and bring them to everyone’s attention. To prove their point, they can threaten, humiliate, harass, or even get physical with their coworkers. 

The abusive behavior of a bully disrupts work and makes their team members uncomfortable. The bullied employee’s mental health also takes a toll, which can even lead to them not coming to work. 

Why is it important to deal with difficult employees?

Before we look at how we can deal with difficult employees, let’s understand why it’s important to confront a difficult person. 

1. Bad for business 

Bad attitude and poor behavior, like consistently missing deadlines, can often lead to customer dissatisfaction and affect your company’s growth.

Employees may also be forced to put in extra effort to make up for the loss or meet missed deadlines. This might build up stress and resentment in the workplace and lead to poor performance. 

Since employee performance and output are directly linked to a business’s efficiency, it will ultimately hurt the bottom line and affect your company’s growth.

2. Affects teamwork and productivity

Poor employee behavior can have a negative impact on other employees. 


There’s a pattern of de-energizing and putting down the whole team that follows a problem employee. It creates ripples from one coworker and moves to the rest of the team.

That’s why poor behavior should be kept in check. Otherwise, it can sap the team’s energy, drag down employee productivity, and affect employee performance. 

3. Hurts your employee brand 

Employee brand is the company culture and values of a business that are presented to the public. A company’s employee brand has a significant impact on its ability to hire top talents in the industry. 

While some employees’ negative behavior makes everyone in the team dissatisfied, it can also project a poor image of the company outside the office. 

This hurts a company’s employee brand and, in turn, their ability to hire highly qualified people for a job role.

4. Increases turnover 

Whether it is office gossip or a worker challenging your decisions, the whole team is undoubtedly being affected by the behavior. 


For instance, if one of your team members is always late for meetings, they would be wasting their coworkers’ time.

Additionally, your team members might spend a lot of mental energy walking on eggshells around a difficult coworker. 

If you ignore the problem behavior and don’t do anything about it, your employees may choose to leave your company.

A 5-step guide to dealing with difficult employees

Very few people like to confront others about their negative behavior and have a difficult conversation.

However, as we have discussed above, it is essential to take action against negative employee behavior. 

Whether it is the disruptive employee, the insubordinate one, or the gossiper, here are five things you should do when dealing with a problem employee:

1. Set clear expectations

While you are dealing with such situations, it is important to stay neutral

Don’t assume that the problem employee will understand and rectify their negative attitude on their own. You shouldn’t also criticize the toxic employee and demand more civil behavior. Both extremes are equally bad. 

Instead, treat the situation objectively. It might be possible that the employee is not aware of their troublesome behavior. 

Start the conversation by telling the employee how you value their contribution to the company. Then, cite a specific example of the employee’s attitude and why it’s inappropriate and unacceptable in the workplace. 

This will lower their chances of defensiveness and make them aware of what is expected.

2. Monitor the behavior

It is crucial to take a difficult situation seriously. 

Start by monitoring the targeted employee’s problematic behavior. Once you have set clear expectations of what is appropriate and acceptable and what is not, it is essential to check if your expectations are met.

Documenting the behavior with the dates and details can be very useful. It will allow you to have a written record of negative employee behavior — which comes in handy if the worker chooses to go legal with any company decisions in the future.

You can also use a productivity management software, like Time Doctor, to track the targeted employee’s performance. 

Time Doctor has helped companies to measure employee productivity and boost their performance.

 You can use Time Doctor to: 

  • Measure the amount of time an employee spends on tasks, projects, and clients.
  • Keep track of websites and applications the employee accesses during work hours.
  • Customize the software to restrict access to unproductive social media sites.
  • Get detailed reports of employee productivity and make data-driven decisions about employee performance. 

3. Work together towards a solution

Listen to what the employee has to say about the situation and have an open dialogue.

 Don’t make conflict resolution just a surface level conversation; get to the root cause of the problem, and understand why it is happening.

Some of the reasons the employee may be struggling include:

  • Personal problems in their life.
  • Dissatisfaction with the job role.
  • Burnout due to excessive work.

Give them the resources, support, or help they might need to overcome their professional or personal issues. 

Make sure that the employee knows that you have their back in helping them overcome the challenge. 

Some ways in which you can assist them include:

  • Giving time off to the employee facing some personal life challenge.  
  • Arranging some training programs for employees who can’t perform well. 
  • Hiring more employees to take off the work pressure from an overworked employee.

4. Warn them and follow-up

Once you have communicated what is expected, documented everything, and deliberated on the solutions, you should set a clear timeframe till when you expect the changes. 

Let this timeframe be their probationary period. 

Set clear consequences of what would happen if the difficult employee fails to meet your expectations. Tell them what they stand to lose because of their negative behavior. This will keep them motivated to adhere to professional etiquette.

Conduct performance reviews during the probationary period. 

Check-in as many times as you can so you can give them:

  • Feedback on behavior improvement.
  • Warnings, in case they relapse into their old ways.

5. Take a firm decision if you don’t see progress

A toxic employee may be unsuccessful in changing their behavior. 

If this happens, don’t get frustrated. Instead, take charge of these circumstances and be pragmatic. 

If you think that the situation has no solution, and the difficult employee still has a workplace performance issue, consider employment termination

No matter how important the employee is for the company, you need to make a strong decision. You have to draw a line before the whole team leaves because of one team member.

What should you avoid while dealing with difficult employees?

No matter how talented difficult workers can be, a good manager should not be held hostage to such or hold on to them infinitely.

Managing employee behavior is a core part of dealing with human resources and is often inevitable. 

However, there are a few things that a business owner or manager shouldn’t do while managing difficult employees. 

Let’s have a look at them:

1. Don’t get personal

It is important to remember that you have to criticize the employee’s behavior and not the employee. 

Stay professional and don’t let the conversation get personal. Treat the situation objectively and leave all your emotions at the door.

2. Don’t bring up the issue with other team members

Avoid discussing the difficult co-worker with other team members. 

If an employee approaches you and complains about the difficult colleague, don’t criticize the targeted employee or tell them about the conversation you had with them.

3. Don’t have a one-way conversation

Avoid having a one-sided conversation about the situation with the difficult employee.

Don’t just make your point or moralize what is appropriate and what is unacceptable. Try to understand the employee and listen intently to what they have to say about the difficult behavior.

4. Don’t fire the employee right away

You must have seen something in that employee that made you want to hire them.

They deserve a chance to set things straight, so don’t fire them immediately after they’ve made a huge mistake. Give them one last chance. 

If the employee still fails to perform and you decide to let the employee go, make sure you have documented everything about the situation before taking that step.

5. Don’t get distracted

Don’t let their bad behavior get on your nerves. 

An employee’s negativity should not prevent you from attending to your priorities or disrupt your workplace operations. 

Practice mindfulness, so you can focus on your work without getting overwhelmed.

Final thoughts

Dealing with a difficult employee can be stressful, but it will ensure a healthy work environment and save your business in the long run. 

It is better to confront a difficult employee who makes work-life awful, de-energizes, puts down the team, and hurts your business sooner than later.

Be pragmatic while dealing with such situations and use the tips we have covered here to deal with difficult employees well.

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