Dealing with difficult employees is a perennial problem for small businesses. Time and again, we’ve fielded complaints that employment laws are stacked against employers - leaving them to grin and bear it when confronted with a challenging staff member.

But this is far from the case and in this guide, we’ll take you through a range of effective ways to diffuse, discipline or deal with difficult employees.

Diffusing a difficult employee

As our resident expert Gary Newborough said in his guide on the issue, most employees don’t start out with the intention of causing problems. This is something that develops - and not spontaneously - over time for any number of reasons.

To prevent issues from spiralling out of control, it’s crucial to nip any potential problems in the bud as soon as they rear their ugly head. This ethos should permeate every facet of your organisation, even extending to the interview process, where you can weed out potential culture clashes before they begin.

We know all too well that the higher-ups in SMEs have their hands full with the day-to-day running of the business, but a problem shared is a problem halved and while extra vigilance requires more effort, it can pay dividends in both productivity, turnover and a range other, more intangible benefits.

Don’t hide from it

Once you’ve identified potential issues, it’s vital not to give in to the temptation to sweep them under the rug or otherwise obfuscate their existence. Virtually no one enjoys conflict and confrontation, but if issues aren’t tackled early, they’ll almost certainly grow until more drastic action needs to be taken.sacking problem employee

At the same time, it’s important to strike a balance and treat staff consistently. Don’t rely on hearsay, which can often be biased - but dig down into the meat of the issue and seek out tangible evidence that of the problem at hand.

When delivered, criticism should be constructive, rather than confrontational, and you should make an effort to display empathy, get both sides of the story and act judiciously.

For instance, at one company we dealt with, the managers were reluctant to confront an employee about his body odor. It may seem amusing on the face of it, but the issue was causing serious problems and behaviour that could’ve been construed as bullying from his peers.

After convincing them to bite the bullet and tackle the problem head-on, it was found the issue was symptomatic of some wider problems the employee was facing. After opening up, the employee was given additional support and was grateful for the intervention.

Procedures prevent problems

Despite your best efforts, some employees may prove irredeemable and in this case, discipline or even termination can prove the only practical option.

A common complaint from small businesses is how difficult it is to get rid of problem employees, but if you follow the correct procedures - the process can be relatively straightforward.

Sadly, juggling HR compliance with the day-to-day running of a company can be a bridge too far for many managers, leading to frustration over dealing with a problem employee and a negative feedback loop that can be damaging to the wider business.

When worst comes to worst, documentation is your best defence in ensuring terminations are carried off without a hitch. Get into the habit of writing everything down, so that if push comes to shove, you’re able to tangibly demonstrate failed targets, deadlines and highlight any communication issues.firing problem employee

Putting policies in place can also help to illuminate any undesirable behaviour, while anti-bullying, anti-harassment and good behaviour clauses can also be a boon in demonstrating consistent treatment for all staff.

While this may seem like a smorgasbord of back-covering, box-ticking exercises - it’s the most effective way of ensuring you’ve got the ammunition you need if a termination proves desirable.

After all, it’s not the employees that quit and leave you have to worry about - it’s those who quit and stay - scraping along while phoning in the bear minimum and creating a toxic atmosphere for the rest of your staff.

Get advice

If this is your first foray into HR, or you have any doubts over the procedures you’ve put in place - it’s well worth getting professional or even legal advice before making any definitive disciplinary moves. While this may involve some up-front costs, making sure you’re doing things by the book can save you headaches and much greater costs further down the line.

And you?

If you’ve got any comments, queries or anecdotes about tackling difficult staff members that you’d like to share - we always love to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to fire us over a tweet or get in touch on LinkedIn.

And you’re looking to ensure your processes for approaching problem employees are up to scratch, or aren’t sure where to start - be sure to check out our range of HR training courses, or book a free consultation and our expert compliance team will be happy to talk through your options:

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