Keep calm

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most managers will at some point in their careers encounter an employee who is difficult to deal with. Common traits include constant complaining, moodiness, absence, lateness, failing to deliver to deadlines and refusing to carry out perfectly reasonable requests. Such people seem to act like a vortex, dragging productivity and morale down with them and driving everyone around them crazy.

So, what can you do to deal with them?

1. Have good policies and procedures and stick to them

Well-drafted disciplinary and grievance procedures will set out the informal and formal steps that should be followed in cases of bad behaviour, poor performance and employee complaints. Get the employee into the relevant procedure and follow the relevant steps. This will keep things moving forward until the ultimate end point in your process.

2. Nip problems in the bud

Unless your employee knows that you will not tolerate their behaviour, they will keep on doing it. Make it clear early on what you will and won’t accept and what the consequences are if they continue. Most people will stop pushing at boundaries if they understand that they will not budge.

3. Stand back from the situation

It is extremely easy to get caught up in the situation, especially if your employee is emotional or aggressive. If you think you are getting dragged in, take some time out for objective analysis. This is the time to talk to someone else who is not directly involved as they may have a clearer view of the way forward.

4. Be nice, but not too nice

As an employer, you are entitled to expect your employees to do the job you have hired them to do. As a manager, it is your job to help and support them do the best job they can do. And if you have a disabled employee, you may have to make reasonable adjustments. This does not mean, however, that you have to give the employee everything they want. Even if the duty to make reasonable adjustments does apply, recent case law[1] has clarified that you are only required to do what is reasonable, not necessarily to accept what the employee tells you is reasonable.

5. Remember that you are in control

It is easy to get on the back foot with challenging and difficult people, especially those who are intent on trying to stop you managing them. You, however, are the manager and you have the right to expect certain standards and to impose consequences for failure to meet those standards. If in doubt, take advice to give you the confidence to keep calm and carry on.

This post was edited by Andrew Macmillan and Helen Webster. For more information, email

[1] Makuchova v Guoman Hotel Management (UK) Ltd

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

15 + five =

This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.