How to Manage Difficult Employees

As a business owner, or even as a manager, there will come a time in your career when you’re faced with managing difficult employees. It can be challenging, but there are some tried and tested methods you can use to manage performance issues and improve employee engagement. These are focused on achieving the best results for your business, the employee in question, and their colleagues, through effective performance management.

Why should managers be interested in their employees’ attitudes?

An employee’s attitude - whether towards the work they’re asked to do, their colleagues, or simply their general temperament - can have an impact on business performance. Bad behaviour from one individual can have a huge impact on other team members, creating an unpleasant work environment and undermining the culture you’ve worked so hard to create. What’s more, it can also prevent you from reaching your team targets and, ultimately, it affects the business’ bottom line.

Problem employees aren’t something that should be taken lightly. When you ensure that every member of your team has a regular performance appraisal, you’ll be able to spot potential problems before they become bigger issues. 

Managers should seek to find out why employees aren’t pulling their weight. Are they acting out because they’re bored? Are they disengaged with their work? Do they feel like the staff perks aren’t good enough? Or do they have a generally bad attitude? 

It’s important to dig to the bottom of this, as some of these causes are easier to rectify than others. Performance reviews along with regular pulse surveys and one-to-one meetings can help to gain much-needed insights.

Effects of poor management on employees

Of course, it’s important to remember that performance problems aren’t necessarily the fault of the individual. If a manager isn’t giving their direct report enough support, then one must consider whether it’s a bad manager that’s the problem rather than a difficult employee.

A study conducted in 2018 by YouGov and MHR found that, of 2,006 employees surveyed, 75% had considered leaving a job because of poor management. The study also found that  55% had actually quit a job for the same reason.

And poor management doesn’t necessarily mean micromanagement or bullying - although those things are, of course, bad traits for any manager to have. It can also mean not checking in with your employees enough. Gallup reports that 47% of employees state they only receive feedback from their manager “a few times a year” or less. Even worse, 19% get feedback just once a year or less. 

This can lead to dissatisfaction among employees who feel like they don’t get enough support. It also means managers are missing out on the opportunity to spot and solve performance issues.

How to manage employee relations effectively

Employee relations refers to the relationship between employers and employees. While there are many components to this, effective line management is the main tool for dealing with difficult employees and ensuring good working relationships.

A recent study by Pumble found that 37% of managers feel uncomfortable giving negative feedback - yet 92% of employees say that their performance would improve via appropriately delivered negative feedback. Employees crave feedback - even less than glowing feedback - yet if managers are unwilling or unable to deliver it, employees are at high risk of leaving.

To improve this, consider communication training for HR managers and line managers to help them deal with all types of employees. There must be a framework for feedback in place at your organisation. This can be through employee engagement surveys, one-to-one meetings, team meetings or performance reviews - and a mixture of all of these is optimal. 

Effective performance management

How do you manage employee performance? Whether you’re wondering how to manage a poor performing employee, how to manage lazy employees, or how to manage a difficult employee, the solution often lies in a regular feedback loop. 

This is often known as performance management. You should work with your HR team and line managers to set our processes and procedures for recording and measuring employee performance. To be effective, employees need to understand what is expected of them and how they can achieve their goals - and managers must be able to effectively support them. 

Performance management is an ongoing process - it’s not simply a case of checking in once a year and forgetting about it. Employees should be working towards SMART objectives with the understanding that these can be flexible depending on the individual and business circumstances. 

The right performance management strategy should help you understand why employees are being difficult and give you both the opportunity to fix challenging behaviours at an earlier stage.

Hiring the right kind of people

Of course, every company wants to ensure they hire the right kind of people into their business - which can be easier said than done. But with a few simple tips and tricks, there are ways to lessen your chances of hiring difficult employees in the first place.

Recruitment site Total Jobs suggests using personality tests in the hiring process to determine whether candidates will be the right cultural fit for your company. These types of tests can help both you, as the hiring company and the prospective employee, to determine whether it’s a good match. If there are clearly clashing values, a personality test can help to weed out candidates who may later become difficult employees.

Another way to ensure that you get the right cultural fit from the get-go is to involve your team in the hiring process. A one-to-one interview with the hiring manager is a great way to establish whether a candidate has the right skills for the role. But to determine whether they’ll fit in well with the existing team, you really need to get your current employees involved in the hiring process. 

A meet the team interview allows you to determine whether there might be any potential issues with their collaborative and interpersonal skills that could lead to difficult employees later down the line. Encourage employees to give honest feedback after this interview and use it when making your hiring decision.


As the world’s largest business support platform, Rovva is here to help you with everything you need, whether you’re growing your business or just getting it off the ground. We offer a full business toolkit, from virtual office space to business concierge services, so you can focus on hiring the right people and developing effective employee management strategies without having to worry about anything else.

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Your complete business toolkit

Rovva puts everything you need for your business in one place. From an accountancy helpline to a drop-in business lounge - we've got everything covered.