It’s probably fair to say that all employees (and all people, employed or not) can be difficult to deal with sometimes. The stresses of home and/or work can make even the most pleasant and even-tempered employee unpleasant once in a while.
Meanwhile, there are employees who are difficult to deal with most or all the time. According to psychologists, these people are generally unhappy, insecure, and have low self-esteem. Like all human beings, these people want to be loved and accepted, but they use inappropriate ways to get what they want. Maybe they are engaging in difficult behaviour because it has worked for them in the past, or maybe they simply don’t know any other behaviour. Whichever the reason is, it is vital for the managerial team to understand what is behind these behaviours because the toll of not taking difficult employees seriously will significantly affect the whole business.
Here are four of the most damaging effects.
One employee’s difficult behaviour can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the said employee and negatively impacts his coworkers and manager. Coworkers might feel resentful if a difficult employee appears to get away with absenteeism, tardiness, or breaking other workplace rules. They might feel underappreciated for having “carried the load” of a difficult employee’s substandard performance. They might be intimidated by a difficult employee’s abusive behaviour. Some employees might even emulate the misbehaviour of a difficult employee in order to “get even.”
A difficult employee can infect employee morale in several ways, including:
By bringing down workplace morale, difficult employees compromise the productivity and energy of those around them, including an organisation’s customers or clients. In most cases, an organisation’s image is only as good as its employees when it comes to forging successful relationships with customers or clients. Imagine walking into a meeting with a team whose morale and cohesion have deteriorated, it would be clear to most clients meeting with this team that something was wrong. Of course, there are many factors that a client considers in choosing an organisation to work with, some of which probably have nothing to with personal interactions. But poor morale and strained communication within a client-facing team can make the organisation as a whole seem dysfunctional.
Even on an individual level, an employee who doesn’t deal effectively with the organisation’s clients or customers can have a direct, negative impact on the organisation’s success. Employees who are difficult for coworkers and management to deal with might well be just as difficult with clients or customers, too.
If allowed to fester, difficult behaviours by one employee might cause other employees to look elsewhere for work. No matter how well-paid or satisfying a job might be in other ways, people don’t want to spend their days in a work environment fraught with difficult behaviours that make work more arduous and stressful than necessary. The combined effect of having such behaviours spread to other employees and losing those who cannot tolerate the difficult employee can lead quickly to a work environment filled with abuse, obnoxiousness, absenteeism, and other undesirable qualities, consequently employee turnover is disruptive and costly.
There are many legal implications of how your organisation deals (or fails to deal) with difficult employees. An employee’s difficult behaviour might, in fact, be unlawful. For example, it amounts to certain types of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, or even assault, battery, or defamation. A lawsuit stemming from misconduct by one or more difficult employees can have huge consequences for, and even a devastating impact on, an organisation.