Dealing with difficult employees

Dealing with difficult employees

Dealing with difficult employees can be hard. We’ve all come across them. Disaffected. Despondent. Depressed. Every time we try we try dealing with difficult employees, it seems our best attempts are thrown back in our face.

Many of these employees may be disengaged meaning they are not performing to their best ability. Targets are missed, and the whole organisation is worse off. Alternatively, the employee might have a valid reason for being difficult, but managers are unable or incapable of resolving the issue.

Options for dealing with difficult employees

Once dealing with difficult employees starts to take significantly more attention and energy from management, action is typically taken. HR is consulted, and when things get serious an employment solicitor is called for advice. Regardless of the route you take, the following are typically your choices;

1. Sack for gross misconduct

This option provides for a way for immediate dismissal. The employer would have to prove that the employee had acted in breach of his contact. A conversation with an employment solicitor is highly recommended before going down this route.

2. Disciplinary process

This second option is a well defined ACAS route in an attempt to improve performance. Key is fairness, adherence to the process, support and notes of all meetings/steps taken. Taking advice from an employment solicitor is a good idea to ensure you are not opening yourself to a tribunal claim in the future.

3. Protected conversation

The third is relatively new – and allows organisations to have an off the record conversation offering the troublesome employee a way out of the business. What is said in such a conversation can not be brought up at an employee tribunal. Again ask the advise of an employment solicitor before having such a conversation to check what you can and can’t say.

4. Do nothing

The fourth option of do nothing is taken more often that not. Performance reviews are filled in positively so as not to negatively upset the staff member. Managers prefer an easy life rather than confronting and causing upset.  A year later, the same issues are affecting the whole team – and in a senior manager’s case, the whole organisation.

These are well trodden options – but there is a fifth way of dealing with difficult employees;

5. Coaching

By contracting with an external coach the organisation will demonstrate employee support (and should it go to an employee tribunal this will count in the employer’s favour).

The process works as follows; the employer (typically HR) engages with the coach and explains the issues. The coach meets with all parties to ascertain and agree issues, confidentiality, reporting and boundaries and begins working with the employee.

The employee is more likely to talk to an external coach, not connected to the business, and be honest. The likely outcomes of this coaching are as follows;

  1. The employee’s issues are explored and worked through. Barriers to performance understood and resolved. The result? A happier, engaged and thankful employee. Issue resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
  2. The employee and coach work through a number of issues, with the employee deciding for themselves that they want to leave the business (for any number of reasons). Reasons for leaving may include a perceived mismatch of values, way of conducting business, deciding there are better places to work, better opportunities etc.
  3. The employee may refuse to engage in the process despite the best attempts of employer and coach. The result? The employee is refusing the support on offer and justifiably one step closer to the exit door.

In the first two outcomes, there would be no costly disciplinary process, no solicitor involvement and no expensive industrial tribunal. In the final example, any case going to court would far more likely be judged in the employer’s favour due to the support offered the employee.


So next time you are dealing with difficult employees, or a senior manager, consider executive coaching as part of your toolkit to help resolve to everyone’s satisfaction.

Welcome Insight specialise in coaching to help resolve performance issues. Utterly confidential and trustworthy we are trained to Masters level in coaching and counselling/psychology. We understand how to get the best out of people and teams. For more information on dealing with difficult employees contact us today.


 (c) Welcome Insight. Article written by Mark Bateman. Image by November 2013.