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How to Deal with Difficult Employees in the Small Business Workplace

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How to Deal with Difficult Employees in the Small Business Workplace

By CeceliaT, SBA Official
Published: June 21, 2011 Updated: June 21, 2011

If your employees spend 40 or more hours together each week, then it inevitably follows that not all of them are going to get along with each other or even with you!

Difficult employees take all forms – whether it’s taking one too many long lunch breaks or spending a little too much time taking care of personal business during office hours.

Difficult behavior rarely goes unnoticed by other employees and, if not addressed quicky, can prickle one too many feathers and lead to potentially explosive situations.

As a manager, it is your responsibility to recognize and deal with difficult employees, here are some tips for doing so.

Evaluate the Problem

Whether you have a problem with an employee or someone else on your team does, don’t rush to judgment or use punitive measures until you have evaluated the situation. We all have off-days or quirks that come to the forefront when we are under stress.  Ask yourself whether this is a one-off or is a pattern of behavior evolving? Has it reached a peak? In which case, you may need to intervene right away.

Investigate Further

Whether you have noticed problem behavior or another employee has brought it to your attention – look into the problem further. Acting on gossip and hearsay can be disruptive in itself and can encourage the same kind of behavior from other employees. Don’t sweep the problem under the carpet and hope it will go away. Ask other managers or people close to your business whether they have witnessed the behavior.

Plan your Next Steps

Confronting the situation quickly and head-on is a must. However, be sure to plan your approach. For example, don’t confront an employee in front of his peers, schedule some time for a one-on-one meeting behind closed doors. If you have an HR team, consult them first to determine whether they need to be present.

Confronting Problem Behavior

Plan what you intend to say, sticking to the facts as you know them and allowing time for the employee to respond. And remember, you are confronting and seeking to address the behavior, not the individual. During your meeting, focus on the goals of the team and how behavior such as this compromises the team.  Emphasize your position of authority and leadership by stressing what you want from your employees, rather than dwelling on the negative. For example:

Rather than saying: 

You are wasting my time and money by spending too much time on Facebook during business hours.

Instead, emphasize the kind of behavior you are seeking:

 “I need my team to work together without distractions to help us achieve our goals.

Ask your Employee to Explain their Behavior

Try to encourage your employee to explain their behavior – and listen.

You might be surprised at the answers, for example an employee who once worked for a small business repeatedly turned up for work late and did nothing but catch up on gossip for the first hour of the day. When confronted with the problem, she accepted that her behavior fell short, but she also made a point that she felt overwhelmed in the morning by the volume of email in her Inbox and simply found herself “putting off” addressing it. Together we developed a plan to better manage her workload and help her manage her Inbox so that first hour of the day could be used more productively.

Work Together Towards Resolution

Instead of just telling your employees what you want to see change, ask them how they think they can do things differently – so that they move forward with a corrective behavior that they feel they can own as opposed to punishment laid at their feet.

Don’t expect everything to get fixed immediately, monitor and continue to review behavior and follow-up with additional one-on-one sessions. If you see improvement, note it and continue to work together.

More Serious Issues

If your problem employee is exhibiting more serious issues such as bullying, stealing, repeatedly abusing their position, etc. you many need to go beyond these methods and suggest a professional intervention. Organizations such as SCORE offer mentorship and advice to small business owners to help them in all aspects of business ownership. You might consider seeking their advice to help you deal with deeper problems, or at least help steer you towards other approaches you may take.

If you reach a point where the employee is not able or willing to change her behavior, then you may need to consider formal warnings or termination. To ensure you handle terminations appropriately and within the law, read SBA’s comprehensiveguide on terminating employees.

Additional Resources

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About the Author:

Cecelia Taylor

SBA Official

CeceliaT is a moderator for the SBA Community. We appreciate your participation and feedback on how we can continually improve the community to meet your small business needs.


Employees of the company are always key issues of a company. The leaders of the companies should pay more attention to the company policy for staff, staff to easily manage. If staff have difficulties in life, you need to have a clear understanding. Only companies with good personnel policy, the new employee can wholeheartedly worked well for the company.
Great information, Very happy I found this page as a resource as I recently had to deal with some employee misconduct.
Here are the problems going on in my company. Sometimes I can not solve the problem. Thanks for this thread.
Yes, it's a problem with any business. We have to always prepare to face the difficulties that caused by bad employees.
Great information, Very happy I found this page as a resource as I recently had to deal with some employee misconduct.
Thanks for the post Nd to be sure something any small business needs to look at and and consider.
thanks for the tips. Of course anytime you are working with a group there is a potential for disruption. Handling it correctly is very important to a healthy workplace.
Great advice. At one point in my career I had a boss who came down with a heavy fist any time there was a quarrel or disagreement among employees. Now that I have my Brazilian Blowout Shampoo business up and running and a few employees working for me I am making a pledge to me (and them) that I'll never be like that!
I guess try to confront the person, but do this in a nice way. Maybe the both of you can tall privately and try to fix things up by telling the things you noticed and putting important things that bothers you. SEO Philippines
Informative post. I hope you have a great future and Keep going to write more. Robotics News


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