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What to avoid when dealing with difficult employees

Many small business owners don’t really have a background on human resources, and dealing with difficult employees may prove challenging. In a small office environment each employee is a key piece of the business, and you cannot afford a difficult employee making everybody else’s performance suffer. However, it’s important to avoid the following mistakes when dealing with difficult employees, unless you want the situation to blow out of control.

Making it personal
Think of your employee attitude as a professionally related matter, and avoid making it into a personal issue. As a small business owner, you probably are pretty close to your staff, but you must remember that it’s all about work. You aren’t responsible for what that employee does on his free time, as long as it doesn’t affect his behaviour on the office. Try to keep everything in terms of professional results and attitude, no matter how much you think the person is acting like an immature brat or has personal problems.

Avoiding the problem
A difficult employee won’t stop being difficult just because you choose not to deal with his behaviour. In fact, he’ll probably think that it’s ok and there’s no problem with his attitude, affecting other members of your team. What’s worse, the rest of your staff may think that being difficult is the only way of being heard, or doubt your profesionalism as a boss. It’s not a situation any business owner wants to be into, but unless you hire an HR department with your start up money you’ll need to do it yourself, and the sooner the better.

Listening to the rumour mill too much
Before actually talking with an employee about his or her behaviour, make sure you have grounds to have that conversation. Do not rely on third party information unless it’s backed by facts. Rumours can be very damaging on a small business environment, and if one of your employees is talking about others behind their back it may be that he’s actually the one displaying a difficult attitude. If somebody says that Person A is being difficult ask for examples of that behaviour, with documentation or a time and date to back it up. Try to avoid a disagreement between two colleagues being blown out of proportion.

Being disrespectful or unprofessional
Even if you are the boss and your employee difficult behaviour is damaging your business there’s no reason to step down to his level and being unprofessional or rude. Besides opening the door to harassment suits and other legal problems, it won’t do anything to solve your problems. Your goal is for your difficult employee to go back to being the person you hired, a productive member of your staff. Being rude or aggressive is just not going to accomplish that and it’s not constructive. This includes having any conversation about your employee attitude problems in private, as opposed to starting a shouting match in the middle of the office.

Ignoring HR protocols
Among the things you should do before starting your own business and hiring employees is familiarising yourself with employment laws and regulations. This includes what procedures you must follow if you need to fire somebody, provided you want to avoid an employment tribunal visit for unfair dismissal. Usually you’ll have to document what measures you have taken to inform the employee of his rights and you need to have several meetings warning them of the problem, and how their difficult behaviour is lowering their performance. Short of somebody actually being violent at work you aren’t allowed to just fire somebody on the spot, no matter how disrespectful or difficult they are.

There are many ways of dealing with difficult employees that will ensure a peaceful conflict resolution and the return to a productive workplace. They all rely on you, as a manager, keeping a cool head and being an example of professionalism and constructive attitude, even when facing a difficult and troublesome employee.

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