Disclosure: Seasoned and Growing is reader-supported. Please note this post may contain affiliate links. This means I may receive a commission if clicked at no extra cost to you. The funds I make help me create more helpful content for you. I only recommend products and services I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. You can read the full disclaimer here .
The workplace is filled with different personalities, backgrounds, beliefs, biases, and preconceptions. With this type of mixture, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll run into toxic employees who exhibit bad behavior or a bad attitude on a regular basis. As a manager, it is in your best interest to confront and address undesirable behavior before it has a negative impact on the rest of the team. As a former Executive Director and current Leadership Coach, I’m going to teach you the best way to deal with disruptive and difficult employees.
I want to provide some context as to why I’m passionate about with topic. During my last leadership role, I entered an organization that praised poor behavior, which resulted in a hostile work environment. Seriously, during my first week on the job, I witnessed a shoving match between two managers. In previous roles, I had already dealt with a toxic work environment, difficult behavior, and poor employee morale, but this was next level. Although it was a difficult situation to be in, I learned some valuable lessons that I carry with me as I teach new managers how to thrive and build positive and safe work environments for their teams.
Handling challenging team members requires a delicate balance of assertiveness, empathy, and effective communication. The method you choose will depend on your personality type, level of comfort, and company policy. Below are 15 valuable tips on how to deal with disruptive and difficult employees. Each tip will help you address these issues head-on while ensuring the overall well-being of your team and organization.
This is a technique I recommend for all professionals when encountering difficult conversations and situations both personally and professionally. It’s tempting to react quickly out of fear and anger, but when we do, we often don’t solve anything (instead we make it worse).
Now, if someone is in physical danger, yes, please react quickly. In all other situations, take time to breathe, assess the entire situation, and ask for more information so that you can make an informed decision on how to move forward with addressing the employee. If you act based on assumptions, what you see, or what you hear, we can make the wrong decision and damage our employees, and our reputation in the process.
Employees who exhibit poor behavior often lash out at supervisors as well. As a manager or as a business owner, it’s important never to take anything personally. It may feel like a personal attack, but nine times out of ten, their behavior has nothing to do with you.
I have found that the majority of employees who behave poorly at work are struggling in their personal lives. This can include personal relationships, mental health, financial struggles, etc. I’m not trying to make an excuse for them, but just trying to show you a different side.
When you take things personally, it’s easier to get caught up in emotions and make decisions that aren’t wise or of sound judgment.
The employee handbook should be your best friend. You should thoroughly know the disciplinary, attendance, behavior correction, and dismissal procedures as well. Employees who are disrespectful and disruptive usually know the rules (front and back) and will use them in their best interests. They will also find loopholes and quote them to you. You want to be armed with information and prepared to combat their knowledge with yours.
Yes, I know I said not to react too quickly earlier, but you do want to address bad behavior within a certain timeframe (at least within 1 or 2 days). When you notice a team member displaying disruptive or disrespectful behavior, it’s crucial to address the issue when the issue is “fresh.” Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away; instead, it might escalate and negatively impact the entire team. Make sure that you identify witnesses and write the incident down quickly. These key details help you remember when you approach the employee later.
As a manager, one of your goals should always be open communication. Your employees should feel comfortable coming to you and sharing concerns, general thoughts, ideas, and opinions. The best organizations are the ones where teams are comfortable with having transparent and honest conversations. Make sure to create a safe space for team members to express their concerns and grievances. You can do this by providing a variety of communication channels (i.e. in-person, by phone, MS Teams, Zoom, etc.). I also recommend conducting team meetings weekly or bi-weekly in an effort to touch base and address issues as they occur. Your employees should never fear retaliation or a leak of information once they confide in you.
The key to successful conversations is clarity, which is achieved through being specific. When discussing negative behavior, be specific. Cite examples of the disruptive actions or attitudes that are causing problems. This clarity helps the employee understand the issues and work towards behavioral changes. Earlier, I mentioned taking notes. This is where your notes will come in handy. Providing specific examples avoids having employees say, “I didn’t do that” or “I don’t remember that.” Time and specific examples will be your best friends in these situations.
When training new and seasoned managers, I often stress the importance of setting clear expectations. For a team to be productive and operate smoothly, everyone needs to be on the same page and know what’s expected of them. In leadership, there is no room for gray areas. Your expectations must be black and white. Ensure that all team members are aware of the company’s policies and expectations regarding behavior in the workplace. Aside from the company’s policy, discuss your expectations as a leader. Do not be afraid to share your goals, ideas, and what type of behavior you expect from your team. Clearly defined standards can serve as a foundation for addressing disrespectful conduct.
The best thing that you can do to benefit your employee’s growth (and yours!) is by offering feedback that is both honest and constructive. The most important part of this conversation includes highlighting the impact of the negative behavior on the team and the company. Avoid accusations, name calling, and guilt tripping. Stick to the facts and state what you want to see moving forward.
Bonus tip: never leave your employee without tips and action steps for improvement. Offer resources and ask what it is they may need in order to exhibit better behavior and become the best version of themselves.
A conversation means nothing without a written plan and follow-up. Documentation will help you tremendously in the future. Especially if the behavior doesn’t change. In the meantime, work collaboratively with the problem employee to develop an action plan for improvement. Outline specific behavioral changes, measurable goals, and a timeline for achieving them. You’ll also need to conduct regular check-ins so that you (and they) can track progress.
I see a lot of managers struggling with the follow-up. This follow-up is an opportunity to gain respect from your employees. Follow-up conversations also demonstrate that you are serious and dedicated to resolving issues of disruptive and difficult employees and their behavior.
If you’re uncomfortable with conflict, providing tough feedback, and having difficult conversations, you may struggle as a manager. Leaders have to have difficult conversations on a regular basis. These conversations can take place with your boss, your employees, or stakeholders. If this is not an area of strength, make it one. Work on equipping yourself with skills for handling difficult conversations. You can lean on a mentor for support, feedback, and techniques. You can also find training opportunities that involve role-playing. When approaching conversations with employees you want to be clear, empathetic yet firm, and actively listen to the employee’s perspective. It’s also an essential priority to remain calm and composed throughout the discussion.
Over the past few years, I’ve heard professionals encourage their employees to “leave their home issues at home.” The problem is, this isn’t practical or realistic. Your employee’s personal life can have a negative effect on their professional life. You don’t just snap into a different person as soon as you walk through the door at work. I bring this up to remind you that people are people. This means, your employees may be going through challenges outside of the workplace that cause them to disrupt the workplace and act out.
I’m not making excuses about their poor behavior, but I do believe you must be mindful that personal problems might be underlying the disruptive behavior. This is where transparent conversations and relationship-building comes into play. Take time to figure out what’s going on (as much as they’re willing to share), then offer support and, if appropriate, suggest resources such as an Employee Assistance Program to help them cope with personal challenges.
It’s always a good idea to have backup when dealing with disruptive and difficult employees. The HR team is there to support you in these types of circumstances. After all, HR is there to protect the company. If the behavior persists despite your efforts, involve the HR department. HR professionals can provide guidance, conduct formal investigations, and implement disciplinary action if necessary, ensuring compliance with company policies.
As much as we want to believe that our employees have a great role and are making great money, it’s not always the case. Sometimes, disruptive behavior stems from dissatisfaction with their job and we know that employees who are not happy are not productive. If this is an issue, address performance issues separately, providing constructive feedback and support to help the employee improve their skills and abilities.
Sometimes… who am I kidding? As a manager, self-reflection is a must. Ask yourself if there’s any way that you are contributing to the employee’s disruptive behavior. Especially if you have multiple employees behaving in similar ways. Consider the possibility that the employee’s negative attitude might be a reaction to a particular management style. Reflect on your approach and be open to adjusting your methods to create a more positive work environment.
(P.S. Often, disruptive and difficult employees are a mirror of their leadership. I understand this is sometimes hard to admit, but look at it from the outside looking in and you may begin to see a different view!)
A positive, engaging, and emotionally safe workplace is a happy workplace. If you follow me on LinkedIn, you’ll see I preach the importance of building and fostering positive work cultures. I also provide tips on how to do this, so make sure to follow me. As a leader, your goal should be to promote a positive work culture where employees feel valued and appreciated. One of the fastest ways to do this is by regularly recognizing and celebrating achievements, fostering a sense of camaraderie and teamwork among team members.
Get to know your quirks, facial expressions, and body language. Why? It speaks volumes to your employees, especially during difficult conversations. This is another topic that you can find training about. In the meantime, maintain a neutral and approachable demeanor to encourage open communication when dealing with your employees.
Guide the employee towards behavioral changes by emphasizing the impact of their actions on the team’s morale, productivity, and the company’s bottom line. Help them understand the importance of their role in creating a harmonious workplace.
Being a manager is all about continuous improvement. Take time to reflect on past experiences with challenging employees. Identify successful strategies you’ve employed previously and apply them to the current situation. Every encounter with a disruptive team member is an opportunity to refine your approach and become a more effective leader.
Simply put, be the leader you needed whenever you were a staff member. Don’t get so wrapped up in the numbers, projections, and daily grind that you forget your core reason for wanting to be a manager. Being a manager is not for the weak. You’re impacting lives and influencing people. All eyes are on you, all of the time so don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk. Showcase the behavior you want to see from staff and they will fall in line.
Whether you’re a new manager or a seasoned manager, you’re going to encounter disruptive and difficult employees during your career. It’s just a part of being a manager. Dealing with disruptive and disrespectful employees requires a combination of assertiveness, empathy, and effective communication. By addressing the issue promptly, providing constructive feedback, and fostering a positive work culture, you can navigate these challenges and create a harmonious workplace where everyone can thrive. Remember, as a dedicated management, your expertise and guidance can make a significant difference in resolving these issues and fostering a productive work environment.
As always, Cheers to your success friend! Sending you all the good vibes 😊