Five Tips For Handling Problem Employees

( While I am in Florida closing on our new house – more on that later – I am happy to turn this week’s post over to friends at Bisk Education/Villanova University. See their info at the bottom of the post. Back next week with news from Mid Michigan Human Resources Association and OHSHRM.)



It is inevitable that you’re going to run into a problem employee at some point in your career. How you handle the situation will determine whether a problem is minimized or becomes an ongoing struggle. A good suggestion is to identify the who, what, where, why and how of the matter. Only then can you start finding the best solution.

1. Head problems off at the pass

Problem employees often have the same sense of entitlement as a toddler. When a two-year-old realizes she isn’t getting what she wants, the pouting starts. After a short five minutes with no results, she turns on the waterworks. If that doesn’t seem to work, she ups the stakes again with a shrill scream until her parents give in, or she wears herself out and comes back down to reality.

Employees will often work in the same way. What might start as a low grumble to a co-worker can quickly escalate to a big problem involving multiple employees, managers and HR. Be proactive and try to rectify the situation before it becomes a screaming situation.

2. Don’t fight anger with anger

It’s natural to feel angry when someone is being unreasonable, but fighting anger with anger isn’t going to fix any problems and will often only create more headaches. If the problem employee sparks your temper, take time to gather yourself before handling the issue. Two angry parties are likely to talk over one another and aren’t often inclined to listen. Talk with the employee after giving him or her some time to cool down. Only then will you start to fix whatever issue is at hand.

3. Don’t ignore the rebel with a heart of gold

It is easy to root for movie characters that are a mix of rebellion and kindness (think Ferris Bueller). Rebelliousness may work in Hollywood, but it can get everyone in trouble at the office.  A lot of companies have that employee who may do a great job and perform well, but also can’t help themselves from breaking company rules.

While looking the other way might seem like a good answer, it’s merely like putting a piece of gum over a leaky pipe…sooner or later it’s going to fall off and start gushing. The problem employee will start breaking more rules and other workers will see that corners are being cut and be apt to follow suit. Your mouth is going to get really tired trying to chew all that gum to cover up the leaks!

As soon as you see a rule being ignored, address it with the employee. Explain that procedures are in place for a reason and that no one is above following them. By giving them a warning and handling the situation with respect, you’ll send the message that you’re aware of what’s going on and that you won’t tolerate rules being broken.

4. Inconsistent attendance might be caused by a problem

Do you have an employee who is always calling out of work? Are the excuses getting more and more stretched from the truth every time? Your employee may have a serious problem that they’re trying to deal with at home. It’s important to sit down and try to find out what might be going on. Try to work out a plan of action (from a work standpoint) to help the employee with the issue and get them back on track. If it seems to be a personal problem that isn’t going to go away, action may need to be taken to ensure the company is running at its greatest capacity.

5. Know your limits

Not every problem can be solved by you. Understand when professional help might best serve everyone involved, especially the well-being of your employee and co-workers. Some problems won’t ever be solved, often because the person refuses to make the necessary changes required. Termination may be the only alternative.

No matter the problem, treating everyone involved with respect should help relieve tension and move toward fixing the issue at hand.

University Alliance submitted this article on behalf of Villanova University’s online programs. Villanova offers online human resources training courses in addition to a masters in human resources development program. For more information please visit their site at


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