9 Powerful Strategies to Transform a Problem Employee into a Productive Asset

Handle a problem employee immediately

How to be a Good Manager and Supervisor and How to DelegateAlbert, the Perfect Case Study of the Problem Employee

In the bustling workspace of XYZ Corp., a figure of constant debate emerged among the diligent staff, a problem employee named Albert. Albert, a fairly recent addition to the team, was uniquely talented but showed an uncanny knack for consistently arriving late. Day after day, his co-workers would exchange knowing looks as the clock struck nine, the hour of the first meeting, with Albert’s seat conspicuously empty.

Albert’s habitual tardiness became such a constant that the office started a joking pool guessing the time of his arrival. However, the humor did little to cover the team’s growing frustration. Their joviality was merely a cover for the real issue at hand: dealing with a problem employee. Despite Albert’s exceptional potential and the high hopes management initially had for him, the team found it increasingly challenging to rely on him, mainly because of his disregard for punctuality.

However, his tardiness wasn’t the only problem with Albert. Assignments due from him would often arrive haphazardly compiled or, worse, not arrive at all. Each unfinished task seemed to point towards Albert as the nucleus of an inefficiency vortex, sucking away the team’s precious time and energy. The management faced a common dilemma many leaders experience in their careers: addressing the uncomfortable truth of managing a problem employee.

As if his tardiness and unfinished assignments weren’t enough, Albert was also an enthusiastic gossiper. Anytime he was away from his desk, he could be found engaging in hushed conversations in the hallway or by the water cooler. It was as if he had a burning desire to be involved in every subplot and side-story that unfolded within the office. The team’s annoyance with Albert’s gossiping habit further escalated the problem employee situation. Even during work hours, Albert seemed to prioritize chatter over his actual responsibilities.

The final straw that confirmed Albert’s status as a problem employee was the emergence of subtle, yet significant, issues. He habitually missed small but critical details in his assignments, and his dismissive attitude towards his coworkers’ feedback revealed an inherent lack of respect for the team’s collaborative spirit. Although not overtly disruptive, these subtle problems had a cumulative negative impact on the team dynamics. They confirmed to the management what they had been avoiding for far too long – it was time to confront Albert, the problem employee, and address the myriad issues that had been festering under their watch.

Recognizing the Problem Employee Challenge

Let’s face it – managing a problem employee can feel like navigating a minefield, where the slightest misstep might lead to chaos. It’s a challenge that requires patience, tact, and firmness. However, it’s not all doom and gloom; with the right strategies, you can turn this into an opportunity for growth, both for the individual and your team as a whole. If you’ve ever found yourself dealing with an “Albert” in your team, keep reading to discover nine potent strategies for transforming a problem employee into a productive asset.

Being able to accurately identify signs of a problem employee is crucial for nipping any issues in the bud. You should be well-equipped in identifying a problem employee in your team early on to prevent complications down the line.

Let’s look at this example, where the manager missed the problem employee for years. In the heart of XYZ Corp, Sam, a quiet and introverted database administrator, had always been a bit of a mystery. He had been with the company for two solid years, and during the early days, he appeared to be the ideal employee. He was always stationed at his desk, completely absorbed in his work, rarely partaking in office banter, and often being the last to leave. However, beneath this facade of dedicated labor, a storm was quietly brewing.

Over time, the stability of the company’s database and associated applications began to deteriorate. Minor glitches gradually evolved into significant disruptions. These growing technical difficulties culminated in a critical situation: a complete database crash, followed by widespread data corruption. This catastrophe triggered alarm bells throughout the organization, leading Sam’s manager to hire an external firm for a comprehensive analysis, initiating a deep dive into the underlying issue.

The external firm’s investigation unearthed an unsettling truth. According to their report, it appeared that the database had been grossly neglected, with no signs of adequate maintenance for over a year, possibly even for the entirety of Sam’s tenure. The revelation was a shocking one, prompting an immediate confrontation with Sam about the problem. Instead of taking responsibility or showing remorse, Sam turned hostile, lashing out physically at his manager. This unexpected act of aggression resulted in his immediate dismissal, confirming his transformation from a silent worker to a serious problem employee.

Understanding and Judging Performance: It’s Necessary!

Every manager’s journey begins with a lesson – understanding that judging a team member’s performance isn’t wrong. It’s necessary. The judgment here doesn’t mean forming an opinion based on personal preferences or biases. It means evaluating their job performance, just as a mechanic would assess the health of your car’s engine. Remember, dealing with a problem employee isn’t a condemnation; it’s an opportunity to guide them towards improved productivity.

We often equate judgment with negativity due to societal conditioning. It’s time to change that perspective. Think of it as a “Performance Evaluation” rather than judging. It’s about helping your problem employee to realign their goals, improve their skills, and ultimately, become a better contributor to the team’s success.

Here’s another example. Amy was an experienced technical writer, known for her ability to deliver high-quality work. When she joined the team, she dazzled everyone with her finesse in crafting impeccable documents. For the first 90 days—her probationary period—her work was exemplary, and her commitment seemed unwavering. However, as her probationary period concluded, a shift began to occur in Amy’s performance that concerned her manager.

Initially, Amy’s slippage in work quality was subtle and intermittent, but gradually, it became a worrying pattern. Her manager took proactive steps to support her, providing constructive feedback and working closely with her to identify and rectify the issues. This mentoring seemed to bear fruit as Amy’s performance appeared to improve temporarily.

Yet, her progress was short-lived, and she began to falter again. Even more concerning was a change in her demeanor, particularly after lunch breaks. After discreet observation and investigation, her manager discovered Amy’s secret – she was consuming alcohol heavily during her lunch hours. Confronting her about the problem, the manager suggested counseling and treatment. However, Amy was resistant to these interventions and instead opted to terminate her position, cementing her status as a problem employee.

Immediate Corrective Action: The Key to Nipping Problems in the Bud

With the “problem employee” challenge identified and understood, it’s time to consider the solutions. The longer we let an issue slide, the harder it becomes to solve. It’s akin to allowing weeds to grow in your garden; the longer they are left unattended, the more they spread, choking your beautiful plants. The same goes for improper behavior in the workplace.

The golden rule here is to correct improper behavior immediately. You may feel tempted to dismiss minor issues, thinking, “It’s just a one-time thing”, “They’re just having a bad day” or “It’s only a small problem”. But even the smallest, unaddressed issues can set an unwanted precedent, leading to bigger challenges down the line. This rule is the cornerstone of managing a problem employee effectively.

Jim was a long-standing, integral part of the company. He had been hired as a system administrator, and his talent and dedication to his role led to several promotions over the years. Eventually, he earned the title of senior application manager. But with time, changes in Jim’s demeanor and performance became apparent. A once cooperative and understanding employee, Jim started becoming argumentative in meetings with end users. This behavior change didn’t go unnoticed, and it eventually reached the C-level executives who requested Jim’s immediate course correction.

Taking into account Jim’s years of service and his earlier positive record, his manager decided to address the issue directly. The conversation between the two revealed that Jim was facing personal issues that were spilling over into his professional life. Rather than taking punitive action, the manager empathetically proposed a plan to help Jim navigate his issues while maintaining his work performance.

The intervention proved successful. Jim regained his composure and returned to his former professional demeanor. His performance improved, and he was once again seen as a reliable and effective member of the team. Over time, Jim’s resilience and continued dedication to his work resulted in further promotions. He remained with the company for many more years, contributing positively and proving that even a problem employee situation could be turned around with empathetic management.

Implementing Policies: The Art of Setting Boundaries

The first step towards effectively managing a problem employee, or in other words, how to deal with a problem employee, is establishing clear, comprehensive policies. Implementing policies isn’t about creating a restrictive environment; rather, it’s about fostering a culture of mutual respect. It’s a powerful tool that forms the foundation of your team’s functioning.

For instance, take the aspect of punctuality. Ensuring everyone arrives on time for meetings is not about being overly controlling or nitpicky. Instead, it’s about recognizing and respecting the value of everyone’s time. Such a policy is not just about the clock, it’s about creating a sense of responsibility and professionalism.

When you have a problem employee who is frequently late, the policy provides you with a framework to address the issue immediately. Failing to act only signals to the rest of the team that punctuality is not important. Remember, your policies serve as a guide and reflect the values of your team and company. They should be enforced consistently to maintain a harmonious and productive work environment.

The Domino Effect: Understanding the Consequences of Inaction

An often-underestimated aspect of managing problem employees is the effect of a problem employee on team morale. This is an area of concern that needs to be addressed promptly, as one problem employee can drastically impact the work environment for everyone else. One team member’s repeated disregard for policies or underperformance can gradually influence the entire team’s morale and productivity.

When one person is allowed to continuously violate the policies without repercussions, it breeds resentment and confusion within the team. Others may start to question the fairness of the system. Why should they follow the rules if their co-worker gets away with breaking them?

Over time, this situation can lead to a significant drop in motivation and productivity. If the problem persists, you may even risk losing your high-performing employees who might seek a more equitable work environment. As a leader, it’s crucial to nip such issues in the bud before they escalate and affect the whole team.

Striking the Balance: When and How to Intervene

Every manager should understand when and how to intervene with a problem employee. Timing is of the essence when it comes to handling these situations. Too early, and you might seem overbearing; too late, and the problem might have already caused significant damage. When it comes to handling a problem employee, it’s essential to strike the right balance between empathy and firmness. It’s crucial to understand that every situation is unique and requires a personalized approach.

Firstly, try to identify the cause behind the employee’s poor performance or improper behavior. There could be personal issues, lack of clarity about the job role, or even a mismatch between the person’s skills and the job requirements. Direct communication can help unravel these issues and identify potential solutions.

Then, depending on the situation, you might need to give the employee a chance to improve, provide additional training, or consider a role change. In some cases, if the employee fails to improve despite repeated interventions, termination might be the only viable solution.

Remember, intervening doesn’t mean being harsh or impulsive. It’s about showing concern, offering help, and also setting the expectations right. Striking this balance is crucial for maintaining harmony and productivity in the team.

Prevention is Better Than Cure: Proactive Strategies

Ways to prevent a problem employee situation is a subject that deserves its own spotlight. Implementing preventative measures, such as clear communication and setting expectations from the get-go, can help avoid these issues entirely. Reactive measures may not always be the best course of action. Proactive strategies can help you prevent such situations from arising in the first place.

Start by hiring right. During the recruitment process, look beyond the candidates’ qualifications and experience. Assess their attitude, soft skills, and cultural fit. These factors are often more important for long-term success in a role.

Once onboard, provide the employees with adequate training and resources to perform their job effectively. Encourage open communication and regular feedback. This will help you identify any issues early on and address them before they turn into significant problems.

By investing time and effort in these proactive strategies, you can minimize the chances of encountering a problem employee. And even when you do, you’ll be well-equipped to handle it effectively.

The Silver Lining: Learning Opportunities

Handling a difficult situation can lead to significant personal and professional growth. Thus, it’s crucial to view learning opportunities from a problem employee situation as steppingstones towards becoming a better leader. Dealing with a problem employee is undoubtedly challenging. However, every challenge brings with it a learning opportunity. These situations can serve as a mirror, reflecting the areas that need improvement in your management style or company policies.

Maybe your policies need to be more explicit, or perhaps your communication style needs to be more assertive. Or it could be a wake-up call to revise your hiring process. No matter what the issue, use it as a steppingstone to improve and grow.

Remember, your goal as a leader is not just to manage your team effectively but also to learn, adapt, and evolve continuously. Embracing this mindset will not only help you handle problem employees more effectively but also contribute to your development as a leader.

Richard Lowe

10 thoughts on “9 Powerful Strategies to Transform a Problem Employee into a Productive Asset

  1. Fransic verso Reply

    These are great strategies, it’s important for HR and CEO to know how to turn the problem into a productive asset. This will help many company as this main part of company growth.

  2. Jennifer L Prince Reply

    I agree that problems need to be identified and nipped in the bud as soon as possible. Great advice on a touchy situation!

  3. Gervin Khan Reply

    This is a great and very insightful article to read. I worked as a supervisor and it was so challenging to maintain a harmonious relationship in a workplace. So having open communication is so helpful.

  4. Melanie E Reply

    Clear communication with staff member is vital. It can help prevent issues developing.

  5. Hannah Bures Reply

    These is a great read! My boss definitely implemented some of these and I feel like it made everyone work better as a team and enjoy the working environment. It’s great for every situation to try and understand what is going in any situation.

  6. Cinny Reply

    Those are really great tips. I think it’s sometimes hard to give constructive feedback but it is so necessary!

  7. Kimberley Asante Reply

    I just checked out your article on dealing with problem employees, and I have to say, it’s incredibly insightful! Your practical tips and strategies offer a clear roadmap for handling challenging situations in the workplace. It’s evident that you have a deep understanding of human behavior and interpersonal dynamics. Your advice on communication and setting clear expectations is particularly valuable. Keep up the fantastic work!

  8. Beth Reply

    I love the approach of considering the employee as a person rather than just a minion to be brow beaten and fired. There are STILL so many bosses out there with that kind of mentality.

  9. Tameka Reply

    This was exceptionally insightful. As I am looking to start my own business this was such great information to have added to my arsenal for employee management

  10. Emily Reply

    These are all really great tips! As a manager, it can be difficult to take on this process and it can be very tempting (from personal experience) to cut off a problem employee when things get tough. However, there is still room for them to be an asset to the company and it’s worth exploring further!

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