As supervisors and leaders, dealing with problem employees can take up a huge chunk of our time and energy. This is time we should be spending doing many other things that could be way more valuable to our team like building up strong performing employees or getting our work done. So how do we deal with these underperforming employees? No method will guarantee you get these insubordinate employees where you want them but the steps in this article are a great start to getting these employees on track.
Definition of Insubordinate
Oxford’s definition of insubordinate is “defiant of authority; disobedient to orders.” Not all problem employees are insubordinate but insubordination in the workplace can be a huge issue. It’s imperative to deal with insubordinate employees as swiftly as possible before they cause a hostile work environment for everybody.
Tips for Dealing with Problem Employees
1. Determine what the problem is with the employee.
This one may seem obvious to you but take some time to determine what the issue is that makes the employee a problem employee. Is their work ethic lacking? Are they constantly showing up to work late? Is there friction between them and other team members? Do they just have a terrible attitude? Are they insubordinate or is there another problem? Finding out what problems you have with the employee is the first step in determining a solution.
Typically, the issue with a problem or insubordinate employee boils down to a motivation issue, an ability issue, an attitude issue, or a mixture of those factors. These issues require different methods and actions to correct them. An ability issue may require more training or moving the employee to another job in the company that suits their abilities a little better. A motivation or attitude issue requires feedback and goals to get the employee up to at least a functional level. No matter what the problem is, communication is key.
2. Conduct good feedback with the problem employee.
Giving feedback to insubordinate employees that have caused you so much stress, can be tough but it is necessary for things to change. Many times, these employees are not even aware they are doing anything wrong. Feedback not only allows you to let the employee know what they are doing wrong but also allow you to determine why the employee is doing it that way.
These feedback sessions should be two-way communication with the employee. Not only is it important for them to listen to what you are saying but it is equally important to listen to what they say. Ideally, you want to agree with the employee on how they are going to get where you want them to be.
Make sure you also discuss with the employee what they are doing well so that continues. Follow up feedback sessions are required regardless if the employee has changed their ways or not. Let them know what you see them trying on and what they still need to work on.
For more information on giving good feedback see my previous article The Importance of Feedback in the Workplace.
3. Ask the difficult employee what they need.
Ask the poor performing employee what you can do to help them perform better. This question will show them that you are taking responsibility to get them up to speed. This shows them that you haven’t given up hope on them. This question will normally help the employee to not be defensive when you are talking to them. It shows them you are there to assist them in getting better. Just be prepared to get them what they need to do a better job if it makes sense in the situation.
4. Document everything while dealing with problem employees.
Documenting everything good or bad is very important when dealing with problem employees. This information is very useful when giving feedback. Giving an employee-specific incident during feedback is very helpful and shows the employee exactly what you are having issues with or what you’ve seen them improve on since the last feedback session. This information is also important if you must let the employee go. Human resources may want this information after you let an employee go.
5. Keep your emotions in check.
When dealing with problem employees, it can be easy to get a little mad. No matter how bad your insubordinate employee is, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Confronting a difficult employee with anger rarely leads to any change. If you are both angry neither of you will hear anything the other party is saying, and things may be said which are not truly meant.
To see the biggest chance of your message hitting home, keep a calm level head even if the insubordinate employee starts to get a little upset at times. Showing anger in front of other employees can also send the wrong message to the rest of your team. As frustrating as these employees can be it is extremely important to keep your cool when dealing with them.
6. Set clear goals.
Clear goals need to be set for these difficult employees. It is best if you come to these goals together. You need to make sure the employee understands what is expected of them. This should be discussed during feedback sessions and reinforced often.
You want to make sure these goals are specific. Telling an employee that they need to work harder is not a good goal. Your goal should be something like, you need to increase your production by 50% within 2 weeks. Make sure the goals are achievable for the employee or you are setting both of you up for disappointment. Also, give them the time to make the change. Typically, these changes don’t happen overnight, they take some time. You may have to exercise a little patience when dealing with problem employees.
7. Determine what motivates the insubordinate employee.
Different employees are motivated by different things. Some employees are motivated by rewards like time off or monetary rewards. Other employees may be motivated by public recognition. Some employees may be self-motivated to do a good job. Some employees are motivated by power. Depending on the line of work, employees may be motivated when they believe they are making a difference. Employees may be motivated not to let either their boss or their peers down. Sometimes employees are motivated to not lose their job. When employee motivations are determined they can be used to help get or keep employees on track.
8. Acknowledge and reward improvement.
Recognize when these difficult employees are trying. If they believe their efforts are going unnoticed, it won’t be long before they go back to their old way of doing things. Something as simple as a telling them good job can go a long way in their rehabilitation. They will likely decide they like receiving these positive affirmations of their work and seek ways to improve so they get more. Just acknowledging the effort they are putting in can be enough sometimes to get these employees turned around.
Dealing with problem employees can be a pain but firing them should always be a last resort. When you fire them, you are taking a gamble that you will find an employee that’s better than the one you just let go. New employees also require training which takes time and cost money. The ideal way to handle problem employees is to get them to perform up to standards before letting it degrade into a hostile work environment for you and the rest of your team. Using these 8 strategies will help turn those underperforming employees around.
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