Dealing with Difficult Employees

Becoming a boss may be the dream of many young adults but leading a team isn't always peaches and cream (or, in the case of millennials, a double shot of espresso and almond milk). No matter where you work or how nice you may be, you're bound to end up dealing with difficult employees. In fact, researchers have shown that 60-80 percent of issues in the workplace stem from strained employer-employee relationships. Not only that, the added stress can wreak havoc on your brain's ability to reason and remember, which can negatively affect productivity. 

Managing employees is a difficult task especially if there's no continuing growth plan in place. There are endless personality types in any given work environment and each of them will require a different approach and training. While some employees rarely need special attention, others will require a great deal. Consider these most common types of difficult employees and the best approach to take with each of them:

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Types of Difficult Employees and How To Manage Them

Negative Employees

A negative employee is easily identified by their fixation with the negative things in life. While this type of employee can certainly be a downer at the water cooler, their attitude can also affect productivity and morale. They may be hesitant to take new approaches or risks. To combat this problem, encourage them to keep an open mind yet still allow them to address concerns. Acknowledge their input and try to be understanding of their perspective.


An Ambusher is like a wolf in sheep's clothing. They come at you with an attack that is often covered up with jokes. While these jabs may come off as funny at first, it's important to demand respect from your team members. Welcome criticisms in a calm manner while letting your employee know that you won't permit them to put you down. Ask for clarification of the issues they are having in private. Then, without getting defensive, respond using facts. Let them know that you're open to their ideas but would also like to hear other opinions on the matter. This approach encourages positive dialogue and allows for more constructive conversations. 


Hotheads are notorious for being workplace instigators. They tend to be the one who thrives off of getting other employees involved in arguments. Rather than confronting the hothead, give them time to simmer down. Then approach them by discussing why they're feeling angry. Your goal is to listen to them and work with them to come up with a resolution. Never get in the middle and take sides; try to be as objective as possible. Once you get to the root of the problem, you can make operational changes or encourage better teamwork depending on the issue.


If you come face-to-face with a Revenger, you'll know because they'll set out to get you back for something that made them feel cheated or mistreated. They may have simply taken something you said or did out of context, which can lead to resentment and hostility. Also, they often resist change. Put their grudges at bay but clearing up the misconceptions, making them feel important, showing appreciation for their work, and involve them in the planning stages when changes are going to take place.


When an associate doesn't get their way, they often feel that their only recourse is to threaten to quit. Quitters may jump ship leaving you wondering what happened. Sometimes your leadership style can rub employees the wrong way and cause them to be irritated. Make sure that their voices are being heard and that their needs are being met. Sometimes all it takes is recognizing their input, supporting a work-life balance, or providing them with sufficient benefits.


A know-it-all employee is likely problematic for both co-workers and managers. A know-it-all challenges every procedure, rule, or thought, and they believe their opinion is the only one that matters. This can be frustrating for everyone on the team, especially the manager. Allow them to make suggestions; however, do not allow them to rule the office. Remember to let them know that their opinion matters, but it is not always the only one that matters.

No-Shows Employees

Key traits of a no-show employee are consistently arriving late, leaving early, or not showing up at all. This employee likely never runs out of excuses and is so consumed with mapping out their next escape that when they are present, they are not productive. Unlike other problematic employees, this one is difficult to address.  

This type of employee can really bring down morale, so it is important to address their behavior. Have a conversation with the employee and explain that punctuality and attendance are necessary for the team to be successful. Review attendance policies and make sure everyone is aware of them in order to avoid any confusion or miscommunication. If they still fail to show up on time, have a talk about termination or relocation if possible. 

The Reclusive Types

A reclusive employee is productive and gets the job done, yet they keep all interactions with co-workers and managers to an absolute minimum. While this in itself is not a bad thing, it could lead to easily avoidable mistakes and missed opportunities. Encourage the loner to communicate more frequently, whether in person or through e-mail (if this approach is more comfortable for the employee). Also, prioritize the reclusive employee's tasks to ensure that they are being taken care of.

Finally, be aware that there may be something else going on in their personal lives causing them to become withdrawn. Respect their privacy and provide a safe outlet for them to open up if they feel comfortable doing so. This could help prevent mistakes and also build a better relationship between the employee and their peers or managers.

The Office Gossip

An office gossip knows everything about everyone and they aren't afraid to share it. They may engage in frequent arguments with co-workers or managers about things they have said, whether related to work directly or in regards to the personal lives of others. It is necessary to address this problem directly and firmly. If the behavior continues, disciplinary action will be required.

Good Leadership Makes All The Difference

Certainly, these problematic employees are not the only frustrating personality types a manager will experience. However, by developing a supportive and respectful work environment, managers can create an atmosphere where employees feel valued and empowered. This will result in fewer disruptions, improved relationships between staff and management, and the promotion of a successful business operation. 

It’s important to remember that managers must be able to identify potential issues and address them quickly before they become a major problem. By carefully monitoring staff behavior, and sowing the seeds of constructive dialog, managers can create a positive work environment that will benefit everyone involved. 

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About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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