Somewhere, sometime, I read that 80% of managers ignore or avoid dealing staff performance issues. I can say with some credibility and much lost skin, that the statistic is true.
I spent the first half of my working life as a union official leveraging (exploiting) the fact that managers didn’t manage properly.
The second half of my working career was spent as the much despised person from HR, who invariably had to take over from an ineffectual / avoidant manager.
Now, as a small business owner and also a people management consultant, I get to problem solve the strains and stresses that difficult employees cause for managers.
Sitting across from a difficult employee last week I had a familiar feeling – I’d never met this person before but I felt like I knew them very well. Then it dawned on me – I may not have met this exact person before but I knew their game / their style and there was a predictability to the situation and their behaviour. Then the realisation – there are archetypes of difficult employees.
An archetype is a model or type on which similar things are patterned. Examples are the hero archetype, the martyr, the caregiver or the athlete.
Here are some of the more frequent difficult employee archetypes and some tips on managing them. Please read on with a sense of humour.
“The Mean Girls”
These employees generally form small packs and are nasty, gossipy and rude. I use the term girls as a generalisation, and a reference to the film, bitchy boys also fall into this archetype. I refuse to call them women and men because no matter what age they are, their behaviour has them stuck some where in adolescence.
Mean girls and boys are often really sloppy with their jobs, they are disorganised, messy, late and are known to get really nasty if they are called on anything negative. Their first response is nearly always to deflect to someone else “but she / he did something and didn’t get into any trouble”.
They act like they don’t care and infuriate any one around them that has any sense of professionalism. Mean girls and boys put themselves first and fxxk the rest.
Mean girls and boys need constant daily supervision and tasking to get them working and busy. The best approach is to make sure they are required to perform the tasks they hate first. The cleaning, organising – the tasks they believe are below them. This teaches them discipline and overtime they will start to feel pride in their accomplishments.
Beware, mean girls and boys will say you are being unfair and putting pressure on them and they can’t handle it when you step up this supervision. The way to ensure you are in front of this reaction is to make sure you keep your emotions in check and be excruciatingly consistent.
“The ex-boss now employee”
These difficult employees have taken a big step down to work with you, and they keep reminding everyone of that fact. They may have run their own business or were an executive manager in the distant past and truly believe that they know how to run every aspect of your business better than you do.
What makes them difficult is less about their attitude, we can rise above that, right – it’s that they haven’t got over the fact that they are no longer in that role and wont play by your rules.
Let me give you an example, I recently helped a manager to give an employee a first and final warning. The employee was great at some aspects of the job but refused to do some simple safety tasks required by the employer. When the employee was asked “why we were in this situation over what were easily avoidable issues”, he replied that “he did not see value in the task – when he ran his own business he never needed to do it”. He then went on to tell us all the reasons why his business was better and what his employer was doing wrong. I think he tried to counsel us while we were counselling him!
These employees make their managers feel undermined and disrespected. More than once I heard the manager tell the employee to “just do your job” during the counselling meeting. As the meeting went on so did the managers level of frustration.
The ex-boss now employee is really hard to manage when they turn difficult. They are often very reluctant to change. My advice to a manger with one of these difficult employees is to critically examine the employee’s performance and make a call on whether the good outweighs the bad – including the risk to the business.
If they are worth keeping then be willing to invest some money into getting them some coaching to help them move forward. If they are not then make sure that you have dotted all your I’s and crossed all your t’s in your performance management process because they will fight your decision to terminate them as a personal mission to show you that you were wrong.
“The appreciation black hole employee”
These gems are the difficult employees that are always reminding you of how hard they work and how much they have done. The reality is that they are working hard and getting loads done but they are over doing it in their search for appreciation.
These are the over engineers, the stay late or work weekends for no real reason peeps. There is nothing silent about their sacrifice and they want the acknowledgement of their dedication and work to be loud and obvious.
What makes these employees difficult to manage is that it doesn’t matter how loud or obvious the praise, there is a big black hole that can never be filled inside them. This means that when you do give them praise, they have a little (irrational) filter that tells them you don’t appreciate them enough.
God forbid when you recognise someone that has done a good job but doesn’t work crazy hours because our appreciation black hole people will be crying in your office asking what they can do better / more of.
The most effective way to manage these people is to put boundaries on the work – it’s up to you to stop them from over engineering a solution. Creating complex, overdone work is a performance issue just as much as underdone work is. Tying your appreciation to them doing better instead of when they ask for it is an effective strategy.
I’ve got loads more archetypes and depending on the response to this blog I might just bring more of them to life.
Who have you met along the way?
Head over to the blog page at www.peoplestrong.com.au and leave your comments. If you want help managing difficult employees or any aspect of people management, you can contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share this article with others. Hope you have a great week
Andrea Tunjic is an Australian based people management consultant with a passion for simple, effective people management solutions.