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5 Ways To Handle Problem Employees

Do you have one or more “problem employees” at your company? You may have inherited them from a prior administration or maybe you didn’t vet them properly during the hiring process. Now they’re firmly entrenched and it appears there’s little you can do short of firing them and risking a lawsuit for wrongful termination or discrimination. And even though dealing with these workers saps your energy, you may still rely on them for vital business functions.

Nevertheless, you don’t have to close your eyes, shut your ears, and accept the status quo. Here are five steps that could help alleviate disruptions in your workplace:

1. Start by spelling out, in your employee manual, the company’s position on negative behavior. In particular, focus on the disruptive acts that simply will not be tolerated. This could include hostility, bullying, berating, intimidation, making unfounded accusations, and worse. When you distribute the updated manual to employees, have them verify in writing that they have received it and that they understand the consequences of any violations.

2. Identify the employees who are causing problems. This doesn’t mean you should single out every person who has unleashed a tirade or engaged in an isolated incident. Virtually everyone—including you—is entitled to have a bad day now and then. Concentrate on those employees who have exhibited a regular pattern of disruptive behavior.

3. Schedule meetings with the worst offenders. Frequently, employees will be surprised to find out you consider them a problem. While keeping the discussion informal, try to get to the heart of the reasons for the disruptions. (It’s not always the employee’s fault.) If the worker presents valid points, address them swiftly. Rely on the company manual as a guideline.

4. Don’t drop the ball after the meeting, even if it was a productive one. Continue to monitor the employee’s progress for at least a year. If you’ve agreed on a path to follow, give the worker time to develop better habits. You can’t expect all problems to go away overnight. Keep notes in the person’s personnel file tracking signs of improvement and slip-ups.

5. If all else fails, initiate formal disciplinary action against the employee according to the procedures outlined in your manual. Typically, this will involve a system of verbal warnings, then written warnings, and, finally, suspension or even termination.

Don’t allow problems to fester—before you know it, your entire workplace could be infected. If you can take an aggressive approach to resolving such issues while remaining sensitive to everyone’s feelings, your business will be better for it.