7 Difficult Employee’s Behaviours & How to Handle Them

September 22, 20204:43 pm1605 views
7 Difficult Employee’s Behaviours & How to Handle Them
Image source: Rawpixel

There is a wide range of behaviours exhibited by employees that can create risks for their coworkers and organisations at large. Such demeanors are usually considered as difficult behaviours which can result in significant negative consequences and even increase an organisation’s legal liability. Let’s take a look at some typical difficult behaviours, focusing on how managers can shift the focus from those behaviours to effects and results. 

Absenteeism and tardiness  

As a manager, you expect your employees to be on-time for their everyday responsibilities. Yet, surveys show that tardiness is very common, especially in young millennials. Among more than 5000 surveyed, 64 percent believed that the concept of 9-5 is antiquated practice and 41 percent of employers have fired someone for being late. But whenever possible, stop worrying about why employees are absent or tardy. Whether they have valid excuses for being absent really doesn’t matter. There will come a point where even justified absences become unacceptable. Try dealing with these issues in a result-oriented way. This way, as a manager you will have more time to deal with other important problems. 

Case in point: Larry is an attorney at a law firm. One of his legal assistants, Marla, is a superior and one of top employees Larry could ever have. However, Marla always shows up 5 to 10 minutes late to her job and it bothers Larry, fearing that all employees will take her tardiness as an example. 

What to do: Larry could be strict with Marla and give her a written warning stating that a certain number of tardiness violations would lead to termination. But Marla is a great employee in other respects, and her termination would be a big loss for Larry. Alternatively, Larry should not focus on Marla’s reasons for tardiness, instead he should focus on the results Marla could bring even though she is late. This might mean to change/create new workplace rules, such as flexibility rules. Given that 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. is a slow half-hour, Larry could consider offering a more flexible schedule to his whole team. The flexibility in the rule could be simple: If you’re less than a half-hour late, make up for that time at the end of the day. Because it would be the rule for the whole team, it would be fair to everyone. 

Keep in mind that, in some cases, a deviation from a schedule might be necessary to comply with family and medical-leave laws or for the reasonable accommodation of a disability. 

See also: How to Have Difficult Conversation in Virtual Meetings 

Dumping work on others  

Depending on the nature of work assignments, employees might not always have (or perceive that they have) the same amount of work to do. For example, when one employee thinks that their coworker does not carry the same workload despite being in the same position, this could raise thorny issues of fairness and hurt morale. Here are some strategies to deal with this situation:

  • Monitor workloads closely. You should be prepared to explain to each of your employees the reasons behind assignments, and workloads should be as fair as possible. Where there is an imbalance, decide whether that imbalance is justified and necessary.
  • If the dispute is serious, have a meeting with the employees involved. Consider sitting down with the affected employees and strategizing with them to find a fair solution.
  • Address systemic issues. The uneven workloads might be caused by something systemic in the organisation. If this is the case, contact upper management and try to resolve the issue. 
  • Set tighter controls. If, after looking into this, it appears that one employee is dumping work on his coworkers, then you might need to set expectations for the amount of work each employee is expected to carry and enforce them through progressive discipline.


Negativity is a contagious behaviour, and one of the toughest to address. Some people simply do not have a positive mindset and tend to complain incessantly. If you do have employees with such negative thoughts, you might need to interpret their statements as complaints, even when that is not what they intend. Here are some other ways to deal with negativity: 

  • In response to complaints, ask for a solution. When you hear a complaint, even one that you feel is unjustified, take a deep breath if necessary and ask the person sincerely what she would do differently. Try to make the complaint constructive and turn it into a suggestion.
  • Consider the ways in which you might be contributing to the negativity. Look at your own behaviour to see if you could be contributing to an atmosphere of negativity. 
  • Set up solution-based meetings. As manager, you can set the tone of your meetings by asking your team to follow a simple rule: If you see an issue, consider suggestions and solutions before opening your mouth. This encourages input rather than idle complaints. 
  • Don’t stifle complaints. Although you might be tempted to say something like “I don’t want to hear any complaining,” forbidding complaints is generally not a good idea. Input from your employees can be very valuable, and your attempt to stifle their voices might only encourage them to complain behind your back.

Credit-hounding and deflecting blame  

Most of today’s work environments are team-oriented. It’s important to impress upon your employees that you’re working together for common goals, though you’ll also want to hold individual employees accountable and give credit where it’s due. As a manager, you have much more control over this issue than most. By giving credit where it’s due and holding employees accountable, you can stop credit-hounding and blame-deflection. This requires some monitoring and careful attention. You need to consider everyone’s contributions to success and failures – including your own – and the obstacles posed by clients/customers. You might find that both credit and blame are more diffuse than they seem at first glance. The guidelines here are fairly simple: make a conscious effort to be fair, listen to your employees, and don’t jump to conclusions. 


Manipulation can be challenging to deal with. If it’s done well, you don’t even know it’s happening. It might have become second nature to the manipulator, such that he is not completely aware of it, either. Here are some tactics for recognising and dealing with it:

  • Recognise your own vulnerabilities. If you know that you’re prone to feel guilty about certain things, to be affected by flattery or the like, keep in mind that manipulative employees might try to take advantage of these vulnerabilities. 
  • Beware of the tactics used. Manipulation can take many forms, such as charming, praising, flattering, shaming, blaming, martyrdom, playing victim, or feigning sympathy/obsequiousness depending on what works best in the situation. 
  • Be assertive when you think you’re being manipulated. Try bringing the issue out into the open by saying something like “I feel some manipulation here.” Say why you think so, and try to get the conversation on a different track. The manipulator might “play dumb,” or sincerely be unaware. The best defense against manipulation is to develop a “gut-level feel” for it and learn from past experience.  

Neglect and irresponsibility  

Neglect and irresponsibility are easier to deal with, because the effects are usually very clear, and it’s simply a matter of pointing out what happened and responding with appropriate remedy. The challenge is that the consequences can be so severe that you’ll want to prevent the conduct, rather than dealing with it after it occurs. 

The best way to handle this behaviour is by testing the employee early on. Give the employee responsibility for something that you can rectify quickly if he fails to take appropriate action. Then, if that does happen, take it seriously, even where the consequences are minor. 

It will be different when you focus on the effects and results. The only way you can test an employee safely is by starting small and treating all offenses seriously. Point out to the employee that he is important to the company and the minor offense is a bad sign. You can give the employee many chances on minor things, but don’t increase the level of responsibility until you know he is ready for bigger responsibility.

Foot-dragging and stubbornness

Dealing with employee resistance is part of every manager’s job – and  this is where communication is important. Some employees have a genuine problem with communication, and their stubbornness could have some justification that they’re not ready or able to articulate. Talk with your employee first and see what you can accomplish. 

Read also: What Should HR Prepare before Terminating Difficult Employees?

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)