A DBA Candidate’s Guide to Managing Difficult Employees

Business people having a meeting in office

Human capital is arguably the most valuable asset of any company, but employee management is also one of the trickiest skills to master. Every employee has skills to contribute to the company, even if not all of them are the easiest people to work with. If you’re fascinated by the ins and outs of employee management, you might consider earning your Doctor of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Management from Grand Canyon University.

Use Formal Discipline as a Last Resort

Every company needs written policies and procedures that are to be followed when an employee violates a rule, produces substandard work or displays unacceptable conduct. But a case can be made to implement an informal “second chance” policy. Before automatically beginning progressive disciplinary proceedings, managers could take a deep breath and consider the investment in hiring, training and developing that the employee represents. Initiating formal discipline sends an implied message to the employee that he or she isn’t worth much to the organization. As long as the employee hasn’t violated a “zero tolerance” rule (like showing up to work intoxicated or engaging in sexual harassment), it may be worth it to have a straightforward conversation with him or her instead.

Listen to Difficult Employees

It’s tempting to simply lecture difficult employees about what they’re doing wrong and what is expected of them moving forward. But this doesn’t necessarily address the root cause of the problem. Instead of starting with a lecture, try starting with an observation. Say, “I notice you’ve been having trouble meeting your deadlines lately. Is something going on?” Encourage the employee to speak openly in a private setting, and then brainstorm solutions together.

Motivate Difficult Employees

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to motivating employees. Some people do better with a direct approach, while others do better with indirect positive reinforcement. If you’ve taken the time to listen to a difficult employee, then you should have already identified the roadblock to that person’s improved performance. You should also have a better understanding of who that person is as a whole, rather than just as an employee. These insights can help you and the employee reach a consensus as to what should be done to fix the problem.

Document Problems with Difficult Employees

Unfortunately, difficult employees do sometimes need to be let go. If you’ve given the individual the opportunity to voice concerns and the time to turn things around but haven’t seen the necessary results, it may be time to go through the formal discipline procedures. This is where managers tend to encounter legal issues. Avoid potential claims of wrongful termination by clearly documenting everything right from the start—even before progressive discipline begins. This isn’t pessimism, it’s pragmatism. If you’ve been writing excessively favorable performance reviews while giving the employee time to do a better job, then terminating the individual might look discriminatory to an outside observer. Always write down the date and specifics of the problem with the employee, just in case.

Explore how to drive organizational change by earning your Doctor of Business Administration at Grand Canyon University. The College of Doctoral Studies offers a DBA specialization in management for modern business leaders. Look for the Request More Information button on this page to explore our degree programs.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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