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Dear Adecco: Small Business Owner Tips #2 – Dealing with Difficult Employees

Supervisor dealing with difficult employees

Our second installment of Dear Adecco offers advice on how a small business owner or supervisor can effectively confront, talk to, and if necessary, discipline difficult employees – a situation that can be particularly awkward considering the inherently more intimate inner workings of a small team in close quarters.

Remember: Even though the exchanges in this series are contrived, they address very real concerns that many a small business owner and supervisor think about every day.

Dealing with Difficult Employees in a Small Business

Dear Adecco,

As a new small business owner, I’m new to the whole HR thing. I’ve never been anyone’s boss before, but for a while things were going great. I liked everyone on my tiny team of six. Lately, though, I’ve been experiencing problems with one team member in particular. Let’s call them “Bailey”. When they started, Bailey was like everyone else: kind of shy, quiet, always on time, and diligent about their work. For the last couple of months, though, Bailey’s shown up late almost every day, seems to want to socialize rather than collaborate, and doesn’t seem to take my requests seriously. As a result, Bailey’s work is suffering and it’s dragging down the entire team. I’m hopeful, though, that Bailey will shape up once I’ve addressed the problems. It’s just that I’m not sure what the best way to do that is. We work in a small space, so I’m afraid of making a scene that could embarrass Bailey and alienate the other team members. Do you have any advice for dealing with difficult employees?

Dear Cautious-to-Castigate,

You’re right to be apprehensive about reprimanding “Bailey”, especially if your small company doesn’t have any set-in-stone procedures to follow when it comes to dealing with difficult employees. Start with a private verbal warning. We know your office is small, but, being the boss, surely you have a private space with a door you can keep closed during regular one-on-one meetings so as not to disturb the rest of your team. If not, perhaps it’s worth sending a meeting request via email to arrange a time to meet in private. Start by asking why Bailey’s been late. You may find there’s an explanation behind not only the lateness, but also the attitude. However, if Bailey’s simply grown complacent, express your displeasure directly, remind them of what your expectations are, and, if you feel it’s warranted, warn that if the behaviour continues, further disciplinary action will be taken.

After the hard part’s over, you should also express that Bailey was, and can continue to be, a valuable member of the team. Complimenting an employee in this way towards the end of such a touchy conversation prevents them from feeling like they’ve messed up things beyond repair and that they truly have a chance to redeem themselves. From there on in, document Bailey’s changes (or failures to change) so that you have just cause to take further action if necessary. But above all else, as small as your company is, it’s best you sit down and hash out an official step-by-step way of dealing with difficult employees. This disciplinary process should then be clearly communicated to everyone in your company. You should also conduct regular performance appraisals during which any issues can be addressed in an official manner. That way, if you need to reprimand someone, they know what to expect – and what will be expected of them.

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