Turning a Difficult Employee into a Valuable Individual


Dealing with difficult employees in the workplace is one of the challenging issues for managers. Difficult employees can disrupt the workplace and decrease employee morale leading to poor workplace culture. Knowing how to deal with a difficult employee will help produce and maintain a positive company culture. 

How to Deal With a Difficult Employee

There are many methods to deal with a problematic employee. Here are some ways to help you cope with difficult staff:

  • Meet with the employee and listen. There could be a reason why the employee acts up, such as struggles in their personal life. Provide them with proper support if necessary.
  • Be clear on desired workplace behavioural and set consequences if things don’t change.
  • Utilise workplace assessment tools to gather feedback, such as a DISC or 360 feedback assessment.
  • Employ the services of an HR Consultant

No matter the method you choose, addressing issues promptly and not letting them get out of hand will always protect the workplace environment and overcome conflict.

What is a Difficult Employee?

A difficult employee typically refers to a staff member who does not conduct themself in a professional manner in the workplace. A difficult employee is someone who saps employee morale, decreases productivity and causes conflict. Effectively dealing with problematic employees can be one of the most significant challenges for business owners and managers.

What are the Signs of a Toxic Employee?

A toxic employee can quickly undermine your business, negatively impacting workplace culture. There are many signs of a toxic employee, and some more directly observable than others. Here are eight signs of a toxic employee:

  • A negative attitude
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Spreads gossip
  • Creates conflict
  • Communicates unprofessionally
  • Insubordination
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Don’t pull their weight and slack off 

Case Study: Turning a Difficult Employee into a Valuable Indvidual

The following case is about a person who was considered the cause for all disagreements and a real problem-maker who didn’t follow any organisational standards or agreements. It describes how he changed into a valued and accepted member of the team through the use of workplace assessment tools. 

The Problem

Sam was a difficult person. He had his own will, which he exercised without caution. He was direct and blunt, letting everyone know what he thought about them. He refused to obey the management’s orders if he considered they were not the best solution to the problem. He was part of a team where people had to rely on each other to some extent. However, Sam didn’t want to rely on anyone and kept all the strings in his own hands.

Everyone knew he was very good at his job, possessing valuable information, knowledge and experience for the company. Most people thought the superior professionalism combined with experience had made him arrogant. 

The Solution

Team Building Workshop was organised for the whole company and for Sam’s team to help overcome these issues. The team-building workshop was customised to the needs of the team and focused heavily on communication. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Sam didn’t consider the training worthwhile and wanted to refuse to participate. He was, however, persuaded to join, although he let everyone know, “I won’t say a word.” 

The training was organised as a two-day session in a remote place. The whole team also spent the night on the premises. 

The first day was about learning to understand oneself. The workshop covered topics such as the Four Quadrant Model, DISC theory and the Extended DISC® Diamond. The learning was supported by “think-yourself,” pair and team exercises. The whole day was designed so that people concentrated entirely on themselves and the assessment of and feedback to/from others was not part of the day. 

At the end of the day, the facilitators provided the DISC employee assessment results to the people. The facilitators arranged for a 20-minute one-to-one discussion of the results with everyone. 

Sam involved himself during day one instead of doing his best to ruin the others’ fun. He wasn’t active, didn’t say anything, but did what he was asked to do. No one gave him any criticism during the day.

The second day was dedicated to feedback from the 360 assessment tool. The session was arranged, taking into account all the instructions for organising a 360 feedback session. 

In turn (12 members), each team member came to sit in front of others, explained their own interpretation of the results, involved others in the discussion, and answered others questions. They picked out some strengths to help boost confidence, continue top performance, and identified some focus areas to develop and improve. There were many unspoken feelings in the team since the discussion changed to a level it had probably never reached after the first two people. People were openly sharing their feelings and giving feedback to one another in a very productive manner, except for Sam. He was sitting but clearly observing. 

When it was Sam’ turn to come and discuss his results, all team members expressed a feeling of tension. Would he do it or leave the room?

He took his DISC assessment and 360 feedback explaining who he is and how others perceive him. He also talked about how he views the world, what he thinks about teamwork and values in work life. 

Carefully, he covered every assessment and assessor, tried to identify the logic behind the feedback. He never blamed the others, nor did he blame himself. 

It required the facilitator to get the discussion going since everyone was afraid of breaking the special moment. They had never heard Sam being open, honest and forthcoming. 

After his turn was over, Sam turned back into his observing but silent mode. 

The Outcome

The facilitator had a feedback session with the team manager about three months after the session. He explained that since the meeting, there had been a radical change in Sam’s behaviour and others’ behaviour with Sam. 

Sam wasn’t a rebel anymore but gave his opinion and made an effort to consciously adjust his behavioural style and listen to others. He had also made an effort to communicate better with others. He still wasn’t the most active communicator, but he tried.

Others were not afraid to approach him anymore, and he was willing to give them help and share his expertise.

Nobody talked about that day with him afterwards, nor did he express any desire to discuss it himself. People were just happy to have a new positive Sam instead of the old negative Sam. 

Sometimes, all it requires to turn a problem employee into a valuable individual is building an understanding of each other amongst a team. In this case, the team had limited knowledge of why Sam behaved the way he did, and Sam didn’t understand why they reacted so negatively toward him. The power of the Extended DISC® and 360 feedback tool proved invaluable to help deal with a difficult employee.