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Here’s How to Get the Best from Your Most Difficult Employees

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Every workplace has some employees that simply aren’t doing their best. With only 36 percent of Americans reporting that they feel engaged and motivated at work, you may be dealing with more unmotivated employees than not.

It’s not always easy to get those problem employees to feel more motivated and improve their performance. Often, it’s a matter of getting to the bottom of what’s holding these employees back, and that can take time to parse. However, with the right approach and some leadership skills, you can get much better performance out of even your worst employees. Follow these steps to make it happen.

Loop in Human Resources

If you’re dealing with a difficult employee, and you’re at the point where things need to change or you’re going to have to let the employee go, it’s time to loop in HR. Your company’s HR department are trained in managing discipline and conflict and can give you the guidance you need to make these conversations with your problem employee as productive as possible.

Bringing in HR at the beginning of the disciplinary process is important, too, in case the problem employee doesn’t improve and you decide you need to fire them after all. HR can help you work within your company’s disciplinary processes as you guide your problem employee to improve his or her performance. That way, if you need to let the difficult person go, you already have everything lined up to do so.

Document, Document, Document

Often, leaders make the mistake of remaining too optimistic about a poor performer’s inability to meet expectations. Rather than documenting poor performance from the time it begins to occur, managers assume that problem employees will improve after a warning from management. Some managers will try to keep reprimands informal for months or years, while holding out hope that a problematic employee will improve on his or her own.

That’s not the best approach. As soon as you feel the need to discuss an employee’s poor performance with them for the first time, document the discussion and the performance issues discussed. Carefully documenting an employee’s full history of performance issues will allow you to let them go promptly if that time should come.

Take the Time to Understand What Motivates Your Difficult Employee

Often, difficult employees are struggling because something is blocking their ability to feel motivated at work. Maybe your difficult employee is stressed out and overwhelmed by developments in his or her personal life – sick parents, divorce, money problems, or child care, for example. Maybe the employee isn’t getting the recognition they feel they deserve – and every employee, no matter how poor their performance, at least deserves employee anniversary recognition and recognition of life milestones and events like graduations, births, weddings, and deaths.

If you’ve reached the point with a problem employee where he or she either needs to improve his or her performance or face dismissal, then the most effective thing you can do is take the time to find out what’s behind your employee’s lack of motivation. It might be something that’s within your power to change. For example, if an employee is frustrated with his or her work schedule or needs newer, better equipment to do his or her job efficiently, that’s something you have the power to change.

Sometimes, however, the problem will be beyond your control, as it might be if the issue blocking your employee’s motivation is something personal. That doesn’t mean you’re powerless to help. Start talking about the support your employee needs to do their job better. Maybe they need flexible hours or help from an employee assistance program. Making it clear that you’re interested in keeping the employee and that you’re willing to work with them on improving their performance may be just what an employee needs to feel more motivated at work.

Make the Changes Your Employee Needs to Find His or Her Motivation

Of course, just talking won’t bring any long-term improvements. You need to be willing to act on your word and make the changes your difficult employee needs to feel more motivated and engaged. That can mean making changes to his or her role and responsibilities as well as making changes that affect hours and working conditions. If all you can offer is empty talk, employees will quickly realize it and their performance could become even worse.

Every company has some employees who just aren’t as motivated and engaged as others. Before you dismiss them as lazy and begin the termination process, take the time to find out what’s behind their lack of motivation. With just a simple conversation, you could end up turning a lackluster employee into one of your best, most motivated workers.

About the author


Sumeet Manhas

Sumeet is professional writer who loves to research of unique topics and express his thoughts by content writing.