“The tougher the job, the greater the reward”.

-George Allen

Problem employees are the bane to every manager. By problem employee, I am normally referring to an employee whose behavior is significantly affecting the morale and the operations of the entire business. For some reason, every organization seems to have an employee or employees that are negatively affecting the entire entity. Some of the problems that I have seen are:

  1. An employee who just does not do what you ask them (after repeatedly being told to do this);
  2. An employee whose temper and anger causes everyone to tip toe around this employee;
  3. A habitually late employee;
  4. An employee that is very negative and detracts from the mission of the business.

There are two basic ways of dealing with these problem employees—do nothing or take action. Trying to pretend the problem will go away on its own accord is tantamount to “encouraging” the behavior. In about 99% of the cases that I have seen, ignoring the problem only makes the problem worse. Why does this happen, in my opinion this occurs because by doing nothing you are in essence rewarding bad behavior.

Additionally, you have to understand that one bad employee can destroy your credibility as a manager as other staff members are wondering why you do not take action. With problem employees, your entire staff knows that there is a problem and by doing nothing you are diluting your effectiveness as a manager.

One firm that I was assisting had an employee that was habitually late 15 to 30 minutes every day. The manager sometimes took action and sometimes ignored the problem. Consistently enforcing this policy is the first step in dealing with these types of problems (less severe). If your employees perceive you or your policy as inconsistent, then your credibility is non-existent and problem employees develop.

With a more serious problem, you must address this issue no matter how important or valuable the employee is. No employee should become so valuable that you cannot do without him or her. The minute an employee becomes invaluable, you become a victim as the employee is now holding you hostage. The goals and mission of the department must have a higher priority than the welfare of one problem employee.

With problem employees, I guarantee you that your staff would rather work harder and longer than put up with this bad behavior. After all, problem employee(s) are affecting every single staff member and in almost every case they are willing to pitch in if their working environment will be improved.

One effective way to approach a problem employee is to ascertain what the real issues are, and then meet with the employee and to address these issues. The sooner this meeting takes place, the quicker the problem can be resolved.

Without exception, whenever a problem employee has been terminated, the entire morale of the business improves drastically. While employee firing is not a pleasant experience, the costs of continuing a problem employee are usually much higher than the short-term pain of termination. Additionally, I have seen in many cases, that terminating an employee is something that they really wanted to have happen and just did not have courage to quit.

Problem employees can and do effect the morale of the entire department. By quickly and fairly dealing with these employees, you can insure that your business remains a wonderful workplace.

You can do this!

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Jerry Osteryoung
Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses—he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His latest book, coauthored with Tim O’Brien, “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book,” is a bestseller on Amazon. Email Jerry @ jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

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