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

FIVE TO FOLLOW – Your suggestions?

My local SHRM chapter, the Human Resources Association of Greater Detroit (HRAGD), is like most other organizations – a little behind the times when it comes to social media.  So I was pleased when the communications committee suggested an article about HR blogging for an upcoming newsletter, and chose to write the article about (blush, blush) me.   I was also asked to do a little sidebar-type article called “Five to Follow”, where I suggest five HR-related blogs that the membership should read.  The plan is that each month I will submit a list of 5 new blogs.

The dilemma, as I’m sure you are aware, is limiting my blog suggestions to just 5.  Right now my Google reader has a little more than 100 blog subscriptions.  I need to pick just 5, at least to start, and I NEED YOUR HELP!

I have some thoughts, but I really want to hear yours.  Which 5 HR blogs would you choose for beginners to start following?

Networking – Online or Off?

In a few short days, many HR and recruiting pros from the world of Twitter will be heading to an unconference called TruLondon.  I am truly heartbroken that circumstances, mostly financial, prevent me from attending this event.  Based on my experiences with some of the attendees, the sessions will be lively and the exchange of dialog and ideas will be electrifying.

What I will miss most, though, is the opportunity to network face-to-face (IRL is the dreaded acronym) with the people that I have come to know and love in the online community.  People whose opinions I seek and whose values I share.  People who have never hesitated to reach out and extend sympathy, laughter, or a helping hand. People who engage you because they want to – which is what social media is really all about.

Based on this experience I have come to the highly unpopular conclusion that most traditional forms of networking are pointless time-wasters. I am not talking about social or family functions, where you happen to mention to Cousin Bill or Friend Mary that you are looking for work.  I am speaking of those events that are billed as “networking opportunities”, where networking sometimes is the only reason the gathering exists at all.

3 recent examples:

1. Local SHRM chapter seminar.  I spoke with a total of 6 people from a crowd of about 120.  Most people came in groups or with co-workers and were happy to huddle with those people only.  Of the 6 people I spoke with 3 were, like me, in transition and moved on quickly.  One woman approached me because she recognized my avatar from LinkedIn. (So much for in-person!)  Cost was $10.  Time spent? 6 hours. Number of real (people you will continue to engage)connections? Zero.

2.  Michigan Chamber of Commerce seminar. I reached out to 5 people in a small group of about 25. At the beginning of the session, one facilitator asked the participants to discuss how their business was doing financially and whether they were hiring.  I approached one woman from an HR consulting firm who claimed to be hiring.  I gave her a business card and explained what I do.  She reacted to me, and that card, as if I was giving her a communicable disease.  I spoke with both of the facilitators, and sent them a LinkedIn contact request when I got home.  They both ignored that request, and I am certain I will never speak with them again.  Cost was $300. Time spent? 9 hours. Number of real connections made? Zero.

3.  Motor City Connect luncheon. MCC is a community created specifically for networking.  Lunch was at a local restaurant and everyone introduced themselves. Most of the attendees were entrepreneurs trying to drum up business.   Cost was $20. Time spent? 2 hours. Number of real connections made? One. I hired him to help me set up this blog and I keep in touch with him through Twitter and Facebook.

In short, I have found that many people at networking functions are there for their own purposes only.  If you don’t fit into that purpose – you are ignored or politely dismissed. Or people come with security blankets made up of other people – and then are afraid to put those blankets down. ROI (Return On Investment) can be pretty slim, if you measure your investment, as any economist would, in terms of time spent as well as dollars.

Online networking – where the people are generally as anxious as you are to connect and go to great lengths through tweets, status updates, blogs, and comments to achieve that connection – is a vastly superior investment of time and emotion, in my opinion and experience.  Still not convinced?  Let me ask you one question: When was the last time you went to a conference, or seminar, or similar event, and hugged almost everyone there?