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What can you do with difficult employees?

Recruiters work hard to find the right talent for the company, but most teams end up with a bad apple now and then.

Recruiters work hard to find the right talent for the company, but most teams end up with a bad apple now and then. If you're a manager, you need to be able to handle difficult employees with the goal of guiding their behavior and drawing out their strengths. While motivational strategies like sales incentive programs work wonders for many employees, others might need a little extra attention to get engaged.

Here are a few tips for managing tough personalities and less-than-perfect workers:

  • Listen to their concerns. They might be giving you problems, but that's all the more reason to hear them out. Forbes magazine suggested talking to problematic employees to discover whether there are any specific sources of unhappiness or irritation. This strategy can also be helpful for managing perfectionists who get caught up in the details, The Globe and Mail said. These workers tend to get frustrated with aspects of their job, so it's important to talk to them about their work style, the source added.
  • Encourage teamwork and collaboration. Some difficult employees can bring a team down, but for others, focusing on group activities can be just the ticket to inspiring better performance. The Globe and Mail recommended giving a mentee to an overachiever who sometimes fosters resentment for his or her over-the-top energy. Inc.com mentioned that extremely competitive employees can be refocused on team goals to support a more positive environment. For example, reward and recognition programs could be tailored based on group milestones.
  • Provide feedback and support. Some workers under-perform because they don't feel confident in their abilities or aren't aware of how they can improve. Giving accurate, honest feedback can lower a difficult employee's defenses and give them the insight it takes to improve, Forbes noted. The Globe and Mail explained how smart but under-achieving workers might just be suffering from low self-esteem, so managers could provide some professional development opportunities like public speaking classes to boost their confidence.
  • Communicate goals clearly. In addition to setting concrete expectations for consequences if bad behaviors don't change, better communication can help inspire workers to perform well. Inc.com described how establishing firm deadlines can help employees who are indecisive, inefficient or prone to procrastinate. These could be woven into an employee reward program to give workers additional motivation for meeting milestones. 

Whenever managers have to handle difficult employees, it's important for them to keep the environment positive, document their interactions and closely adhere to company policy, Forbes advised.

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