No matter how good at their jobs they are, some employees are simply difficult. It might be because of a personality clash, or maybe this person has certain habits you as a manager can’t stand. Attitude and personality both factor into who makes a good “fit” at a company, and understanding how to handle someone who is not the right fit can empower your team and your company for better productivity in the future.

The Hallmarks of a Difficult Employee

Unless an employee is willing to work with management to find common ground, dealing with some employees’ personalities may be truly difficult. They may waste time, decrease team morale, or drain energy from the team. On the other hand, they may do excellent work, making it even more challenging to deal with their difficult behaviors. Here are the hallmarks to look for in a difficult employee:

  • He or she does not take criticism, feedback, or offers of help well: This type of employee may be a know-it-all and won’t back down from what he or she believes is right, no matter the circumstance. Instead of confidence, these individuals tend to be arrogant and do not play well with others.
  • He or she is a pessimist: These negative Nancys can’t seem to see the silver lining in anything. They may avoid completing tasks and may not see the point in doing any work.
  • The martyr or complainer: These individuals won’t accept personal responsibility, may always feel everything is someone else’s fault or always their own fault, or they may consistently blame or complain about tasks without getting any real work accomplished.
  • The aggressive types: Passive-aggressive and hostile employees are not only energy draining, they can actively damage work environments, causing serious problems. These individuals may harbor resentment about workplace activities, argue, or commit small acts of passive-aggressive behaviors that hinder the work process.

Handling a Difficult Employee

Dealing with a difficult employee can be tricky business. Management should try to empathize with difficult employees. This can be problematic and often requires a basic understanding of psychology, but understanding the personality can help a manager identify the appropriate response. Sometimes you need to do a little digging and approach the situation strategically instead of with an on-the-nose conversation. For instance, an aggressive personality may require more of a casual conversation during which you can subtly suggest changes in a non-confrontational way.

For the martyr, you may want to express how the behavior makes others feel. Instead focusing on poor behaviors, you’re allowing the individual to empathize with others and make changes accordingly. Establish limits with clear repercussions, but remember these are weaknesses in behavior that deserve as much support and guidance as other soft skills.

Keep a performance record of employee behaviors so you can show the employee where you are coming from. Instead of pointing out flaws, show how better communication could have changed a specific interaction. Facilitate positive interactions with regular, collaborative performance reviews. Get started with a great performance review template to help you identify and address difficult employee behaviors.