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How to Deal with Difficult Employees: Reasons and Ways to Manage

How to deal with difficult employees is one of the key concerns for senior leadership in every workplace. From habitual tardiness to conflicts with coworkers, problematic behaviors can vary widely. While every individual is unique, understanding the root causes and knowing how to approach these situations is crucial for maintaining a harmonious and productive work environment.

At TechPinnacle, a fast-growing software firm in the heart of Silicon Valley, things weren’t always smooth sailing. The management faced a dilemma. Amidst the high spirits of their successful quarterly returns, there lay an underlying problem: a group of difficult employees. These individuals, though talented, were often disruptive, resistant to feedback, and had low morale.

After numerous HR sessions and consultations, it was clear. These employees felt undervalued and underappreciated. Their concerns weren’t about wages or workload but a lack of recognition and the monotonous corporate culture.

Angry, fight and employee at work bullying a colleague in a meeting due to a mistake and office pol
Angry, fight and employee at work bullying a colleague in a meeting due to a mistake and office pol

Challenges of Managing Difficult Employees

  • Decreased Morale: One problematic employee can negatively impact the morale of the entire team.
  • Lost Productivity: Time spent addressing these issues can take away from tasks and projects.
  • Risk of Escalation: If not handled promptly, small problems can become bigger issues, sometimes even leading to legal consequences.
  • Strained Manager-Employee Relationships: It can be challenging for managers to maintain a good relationship with a difficult employee, impacting overall team dynamics.

Reasons Behind Difficult Behaviors

  • Unaddressed Personal Issues: External factors, like personal life disturbances, can cause employees to act out at work. Problems like marital issues, financial stress, or health concerns can be distracting and result in decreased productivity or negative behaviors.
  • Mismatch of Job Role: An employee might be in a role that doesn’t match their skills or interests. This can lead to frustration and lack of motivation.
  • Need for Training: Sometimes, an employee may not have received adequate training, causing them to struggle with their tasks.
  • Clashing Personalities: Personality conflicts between coworkers or between an employee and their supervisor can lead to disputes and misunderstandings.

Mental Problems
Mental Problems

Effective Strategies to Handle Difficult Employees

Handling difficult employees is a test of management acumen, interpersonal skills, and patience. Effective leaders use a mix of strategies tailored to the situation and the individual. Here’s a deeper dive into some of these strategies:

  • Open Communication:
    • Initiate Dialogue: Approach the employee to discuss observed problematic behavior. Often, starting a conversation with appreciation for their efforts can set a positive tone.
    • Active Listening: Understand their viewpoint without interruption.
    • Feedback Loops: Regular check-ins help gauge progress.

  • Provide Clear Feedback:
    • Specificity is Key: Address specific issues and always follow up with positive feedback for their support.
    • Positive Reinforcement: Highlighting their achievements can motivate them. For significant achievements, consider corporate gifting as a token of appreciation.
    • Future Orientation: Offer solutions and set a path for progress.

Appreciate Their Contributions:

  • Regular Acknowledgment: Regularly thank them for their contributions and support. This fosters a positive work environment.
  • Swag & Corporate Gifting: Personalized gifts or company merchandise can serve as a token of appreciation and boost morale.


  • Implement Training Programs:
    • Skill Development: Offer workshops, courses, or mentoring.
    • Soft Skills Training: Focus on communication, teamwork, or conflict resolution.
    • Feedback Mechanisms: Check the implementation of learned skills.

  • Consider Mediation:
    • Neutral Third Party: An objective mediator can help resolve conflicts.
    • Conflict Resolution Training: Equip employees to address disputes.
    • Group Sessions: Collaborative solutions can be found in group discussions.

  • Set Clear Expectations:
    • Documented Job Roles: Define job responsibilities.
    • Performance Metrics: Offer clear performance targets.
    • Regular Reviews: Track progress and adjust as needed.

  • Document Everything:
    • Record Keeping: Maintain detailed logs.
    • Protection Against Legal Issues: Comprehensive records are invaluable.
    • Consistency: Treat all employees uniformly.

  • Re-evaluate Job Roles:
    • Skill-to-Role Match: Ensure employees are in roles suited to their skills.
    • Potential Transfers: Find roles where the employee might excel.
    • Redesigning Roles: Adjust job roles for better performance.

  • Seek External Advice:
    • HR Consultation: Engage HR professionals for deeper insights.
    • External Counselors: Counseling can address deeper behavioral issues.
    • Continuous Learning: Stay updated with latest HR strategies.

Comparative Insights on Dealing with Difficult Employees: Male vs Female

  • Communication Approach: For female employees, it might be beneficial to approach situations with empathy and understanding, whereas, with male employees, directness might yield better results.
  • Mentorship: While mentorship is universally beneficial, female employees might benefit more from female role models, given the unique challenges they might face in certain industries.
  • Training: While women might benefit from training programs that bolster assertiveness and leadership, men might benefit more from those that enhance emotional intelligence and team collaboration.
  • Feedback: Constructive feedback is crucial for all. However, ensuring feedback is devoid of gender biases, especially with female employees, is critical. With male employees, clarity and directness can be more impactful.

snack box with swag

Unique Way to Deal with Difficult Employees

Remember TechPinnacle?

TechPinnacle’s management, upon recommendation, decided to explore how SwagMagic might offer a remedy to their problem.

10 Transformative Solutions SwagMagic Offered

  • Customized Appreciation Kits: TechPinnacle started sending out personalized ‘Thank You’ kits to employees who went the extra mile. Each kit contained merchandise tailored to the employee’s tastes.
  • Monthly Swag Store Access: Employees were given access to a Swag Store where they could choose from a range of promotional merchandise. It added an element of choice and personalization.
  • Branded Workspace Items: To add a personal touch to the workspace, employees received branded stationery, mousepads, and coffee mugs. A daily reminder of belongingness.
  • Gift Cards for Milestones: For work anniversaries or significant achievements, employees were rewarded with gift cards. This flexible reward allowed them to select their desired item.
  • Feedback Rewards System: Employees were encouraged to give feedback and in return, received custom badges or pins. It bridged the gap between management and staff.
  • Team Swag Packs: For teams that collaborated well on projects, SwagMagic curated team packs. These included matching shirts, caps, or even tech gadgets.

swag kit

  • Festive Gift Boxes: During festive seasons, employees received beautifully curated snack gift boxes. This added a touch of warmth and personal connection.
  • Training Completion Kits: After completing in-house training or skill development courses, employees were given custom kits, boosting enthusiasm for further learning.
  • New Joiner Welcome Packs: To integrate new employees seamlessly and make them feel valued, SwagMagic designed welcome packs. These packs were filled with essentials and some fun items to kickstart their journey.
  • Personal Milestone Acknowledgment: Whether it was a birthday, a new baby, or a wedding, SwagMagic helped TechPinnacle acknowledge personal milestones with thoughtful gifts.

The Transformation

As months went by, a significant shift was evident. The difficult employees felt more acknowledged, leading to improved morale and reduced disruptions. Their productivity increased, and they became more receptive to feedback. The air at TechPinnacle was more positive and more vibrant.

Conclusion: The Magic Touch

It’s fascinating how simple gestures can transform workplace dynamics. TechPinnacle’s collaboration with SwagMagic wasn’t just about gifts; it was about recognition, value, and the human touch. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of magic (or swag) to turn things around!


  • Lencioni, P. (2002). The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Jossey-Bass.
  • Robbins, S.P., & Judge, T.A. (2017). Organizational Behavior. Pearson.
  • Stone, D. (2000). Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books.
  • Tiedens, L. Z., & Fragale, A. R. (2003). Power moves: Complementarity in dominant and submissive nonverbal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(3), 558.

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