SAF Maui 2016 Recap: Dealing With Difficult Employees

Glenna Hecht returned to SAF’s annual convention this year to share her wisdom on dealing with difficult employees. Here are some of the highlights.

SAF Maui 2016 Recap: Dealing With Difficult Employees

Glenna opened the session by defining a difficult employee as one who either does not do what you want them to do, or does what you do not want them to do - in other words, a difficult employee is someone who makes their own rules.

According to Glenna, difficult employees can be “divas, procrastinators, know-it-alls, victims, bullies, gossips, naysayers…They come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ages and styles.”

If you choose to ignore this situation you become a hostage in your own business, so the solution is to be proactive.


Be Clear About Your Code of Honor

Every business needs a code of honor, which is really just the expected and acceptable behaviours in your workplace.

Without a clear code of honor, it can be hard for your employees to know what you want your business to stand for. Some examples include:

  • Use your best judgement at all times
  • We treat each other with respect and dignity
  • We don’t talk about others behind their backs

How do you start creating your business code of honor? Start with your employee’s job descriptions. If you have never had a formal job description for your staff, this is the crucial first step in outlining what it expected in terms of skills, experience, physical requirements, hours per week etc. It will also help with more intangible items that fall under expected behaviour.

Examples include:

  • Work as a team 
  • Support each other 
  • We ask questions and don’t jump to conclusions
  • We trust each other’s motives
  • Finish what you start


Tips For If you Already Have a Difficult Employee

  1. Address the behaviour immediately - small problems, if ignored, become bigger. And by ignoring it you are essentially telling everyone that’s it acceptable. 
  2. Ask the employee “what do you think is causing this behaviour?”. Sometimes it may be something out of the employee’s control and they are unable or uncomfortable to tell you about it (e..g I’m late because my car broke down and I can’t afford to fix it”). 
  3. Listen and provide feedback and potential solutions. 
  4. If the employee is not aware of the behaviour issues, describe in detail what you observed and the results of these actions. (e.g. ‘You’ve been late every day this week, which means someone on the design team had to cover the cash and we were behind schedule.”
  5. Remember to focus on the behaviour, not the person.
  6. Clearly communicate your expectations and ask “Are you willing to change?”


Avoid Hiring a Difficult Employee Through Behavioural Interviewing

One of the best ways to align employees to your code of honor is right at the interview process. Behavioural interviewing is used to identify skills, qualifications and alignment with your expected and acceptable behaviours. It is typically composed of three parts: a lead in, a shared experience, and a probe.

The lead in provides an idea of what the job will require. This should be about five words, e.g. “Sometimes a job is stressful”.

The next is a request for the employee to share an experience that was negative and how it affected their work environment.

The final part is the probe where you ask what the potential employee did to cope with this situation and improve it.

Here’s a sample question with all three sections together:

“We sometimes deal with tight timelines. Tell me about a time you had to deal with a lot of work and a deadline. What did you do to manage your time and make the experience a positive one?”

What you are looking for in the interviewee’s answer is actions that aligns with your code of honor. In the example above, if your code involves working as a team, taking responsibility and completing your tasks, then you are looking for an answer that hits those notes.

Overall you should be aiming for a total of five behavioural questions during the interview, three on the job and two on expected behaviour. Young interviewees without a lot of work experience can draw on school or extra curricular or even family experiences.

Red Flag Alert

An interviewee who answers “I’ve never been in this type of situation” is probably a difficult employee who likely never realized their behaviour caused anyone else distress.


For more information about Glenna Hecht, you can visit her website. SAF members can view info from the convention.