Four Difficult People to Manage – And How to Manage Them

February 6, 2017

Advice on how to manage a slacker, a passive aggressive employee, an employee who resists everything and a habitually late employee.

There are so many different types of employees. And it’s a manager’s job to somehow, someway get the most out of all of them.

It isn’t easy. You can’t treat someone who complains all the time the same as someone who holds all their complaints inside, for example. Different problems require different playbooks, and, as a manager, it isn’t always easy to know which playbook will work.

To help you, we looked to Executive Coach Todd Dewett’s LinkedIn Learning course, Managing Employee Performance Problems. In it, Dewett gave an exhaustive list of difficult types of employees managers have to deal with, and actionable plans on how to deal with each one.

With more than a dozen in the course, it's too much to list all of those strategies in this one aritcle. But we selected four of the most common types of employees who cause problems in your office, and playbooks from Dewett for getting them back on track.

1. The slacker.

Why they are a problem: While they don’t necessarily bring negative vibes to the office, slackers hurt your team’s performance for three main reasons:

  • Their unenthused performance drags down the team’s performance overall.
  • They can encourage others to be slackers.
  • They reflect poorly on you.

How you should manage them: Meet with them one-on-one. There, ask them if everything is okay, and then tell them their productivity has been too low over whatever time you’ve observed it to be that way (likely at least a few weeks, if not a few months).

From there, tell them it’s your fault for not holding them to the same standards as everyone else and explain it’s your responsibility that they start meeting or exceeding that standard. Next, list the specific metrics or indicators of productivity you are worried about. Then address consequences by saying something like “I expect an improvement within the next quarter or we might have to make other changes.”

To end the meeting, tell them this conversation will be noted in their yearly evaluation, but you are stopping short of creating a formal development plan because you are confident they'll work their way out of it. After that, answer any of their questions.

Bottom line, you need to find the best way to positive intervene and redefine your standards to get them moving again.

2. The employee who is always late.

Why they are a problem: Even if they are a strong performer, it’s not acceptable to have an employee who is always late. First off, it delays everyone else when they are late, hurting productivity. Second, it’s irritating and disrespectful to the other employees and to yourself.

How you should manage them: It starts by meeting with them one-on-one and highlighting the problem. Something like, you’ve been late nearly half the time over the past two months, is everything okay? Usually, just pointing it out will fix the problem.

However, if it persists after that, it’s time for a formal intervention. If they are late again, tell them you are going to start documenting it each time and you are only going to give them one more chance. If it still continues, write a note for his or her personnel file and give it to them to sign.

By then, the problem should go away. If so, thank the person for fixing it after a few weeks. If not, it’s time to start the process for termination.

3. The passive aggressive employee.

Why they are a problem: Passive aggressive employees are often more challenging than overtly dramatic employees, because it's not clear what’s causing the problem. If the passive aggressiveness persists, not only will it hurt their productivity, but also ruin the morale of the team as well.

How you should manage them: If an employee acts passive aggressively toward you, ask them directly if they are upset with you about something. Often, that'll lead to a more productive conversation and potentially fix the problem right there.

If it doesn’t, meet with them one-and-one and call out their passive aggressive behaviors – perhaps, intentionally doing work incorrectly or not responding to email – and ask them if they are doing them on it on purpose. This will force them into a more direct conversation.

Another tactic is to highlight the power of publicity. If an employee is intentionally dragging their heels on a project, send an email out summarizing everyone’s deadlines for the week, including theirs. When everyone knows they are supposed to do something, the passive aggressive employee is more likely to comply.

If none of that works, it’s time for an intervention. Tell them you continue to see them acting passively aggressively and, while it isn’t going on their record, it needs to stop. Most of the time, this will fix the problem (of course, if it persists, more extreme consequences are necessary).

4. The employee who resists everything.

Why they are a problem: These people aren’t complainers precisely, but instead people who believe every new project is going to fail, and love to tell everyone else why it will fail. And these people cause others to hold in their ideas, for fear of ridicule, and their negative energy helps their doomsday prophecies come true.

How you should manage them: Start with the things you shouldn’t do. You shouldn’t respond emotionally to the resister, you shouldn’t try to change their personality (that won’t work) and you shouldn’t merely ignore them.

So what should you do?

Schedule a one-on-one meeting with them. Tell them you’ve seen several negative behaviors over a course of time and specifically call them out (it’s important to be specific). Say it feels like a pattern that whenever someone brings up a new idea, they tend to shut it down.

Tell them they have the right to be critical. But let them know that chopping down ideas immediately is no longer acceptable. Instead, encourage them to start offering their own ideas and thinking about how something could work, rather than dreaming up all the reasons it won’t work.

Except for the worst cases, this one conversation will usually improve their behavior.

The takeaway

This is just a sprinkling of the types of personalities a manager has to deal with. In his course, Dewett covers many more, but the point remains: different employees require much different management styles.

The best managers, therefore, are adaptable. Rather than having one strategy for everyone, they have specific strategies for each employee they manage, which brings out the most in that person.

*Image from Tambako, Flickr

Want to know how to manage the overly political employee? The show off? The habitual complainer? Watch Dewett’s course, Managing Employee Performance Problems, to see how to deal with a wide range of difficult personalities. 

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