The only thing tougher than a challenging client, is a challenging employee. A difficult client can usually be managed, but a difficult employee can be a gremlin to your business. They’re usually the cause of unproductive dissent, rifts in collaboration, and poor workplace atmosphere. However, all challenging employees aren’t cut of the same cloth. Here’s how to identify two lesser-known types and how to deal with them.
Type 1: The Underdog
This type of employee seems to always engage the underdogs and personally carry the cross of every dissident employee. Let’s name her “Sarah”. Sarah might be great at her job – in fact, she probably is because she tends to care a whole lot about things. The challenge comes into play because Sarah also cares a whole lot about people too, especially people she sees getting ignored. Sarah, however, is far from a problem employee. She’s a diamond in the rough.
Sarah is likely to know how your employees really feel because she can connect with them. She’s also likely to tell you because she’s not intimidated by management.
Sarah isn’t your problem; she’s a golden solution to a problem you might not even know you had. The fact that Sarah has a grievance and is able to align with loner employees tells you two things. First, your team isn’t all that happy (which is why Sarah knows about it). Second, you’ve got some isolated employees that need to come back into the fold…and Sarah knows how.
Your solution is to promote Sarah into HR. Either give her a full position within it as talent management (and offer training) or give her a small raise or a monthly stipend to also formally address these issues. In doing so, you’ve valued Sarah and taken away the brooding view of a boorish company, and you’ve given her a formal way to address issues that need addressing. It’s a win four times over. You win, she wins, your employees win, and your brand wins.
Type 2: The Snake
This type of employee might be a great employee, but the rest of your team probably hates her. They might be doing just well enough at their job: they don’t fail so they’re not drawing complaints from management…but they also don’t excel too far above the benchmark (because they’re in it for themselves).
The snake is always about herself. Let’s call her Michelle. Michelle is all about Michelle – and it’s pretty transparent to the other employees.
Your problem here is a little trickier. By nature, Michelle wants to promote herself over any others, which makes her a terrible collaborator. She’s sufficient at her job but she’s not motivated to excel at it either, which means you’re always only going to get more or less the bare minimum out of her.
If you don’t care a whole lot about Michelle, you’re better off just replacing her because she’s really sort of a parasitic employee. However, if for some reason you want to keep her on, then you’ve got to find a way for her to need to engage other employees. Try teaming her up with another one or two people of strong characters and diplomatic personalities that can work with Michelle on a project. Chances are Michelle just needs a little bit of training in how to play well with others.
Whatever you do, don’t put her in charge because her default nature is to take it easy and play to her own advantage rather than to the benefit of the company. With a snake, the solution is to have a stronger alpha “wolf” type employee manage her directly.
The golden rule to difficult employees is to first know how to hire the right balance of people. The second is having an understanding of people and knowing how to spot and manage issues. These two rules along would elevate most companies and organizations out of mediocre and into exceptional. If your company has trouble identifying employee types, then you might want to consider a talent management consultant. A third person consultant or team can go a lot further in spotting and troubleshooting personality conflicts.
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