Alex Lopez
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Alex Lopez on February 2, 2016

How to Deal with Problem Employees

Running a business comes with many obstacles and challenges — and effectively managing a variety of personalities to create team cohesion is a big part of success. Unfortunately, nearly every business owner has dealt with or will deal with a problem employee at some time or another. These individuals are notorious for creating strife, stirring up drama and generally making things difficult on everyone else.


What is a Problem Employee?

A problem employee is a term that’s defined on the Reference for Business website as “A worker who fails to conduct himself or herself in a responsible, professional manner in the workplace.” Their behavior can manifest itself in a myriad of ways including excessive tardiness/absenteeism, poor attitude, creating perpetual conflicts with other employees and more.

In a best case scenario, problem employees can reduce the quality of company culture and put a damper on productivity. In a worst case scenario, they can upset operations, ruin your reputation and kill your profitability.


The Negative Impact

There are specific ways that problem employees can hurt a business:

  • Spreading a bad attitude
  • Creating a more stressful working environment
  • Straining working relationships
  • Damaging rapport with customers/clients
  • Contributing to a high turnover rate

Whether it’s because a person is lazy, apathetic, chronically late, disrespectful, aggressive or displays any other unsavory traits, this negativity will usually permeate throughout your entire business and is going to throw a wrench in operations.


How to Manage Behavior

Workplace policies that govern performance and behavior provide a good foundation for dealing with problem employees. These will clarify your expectations of employees and define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Include topics like attendance, performance expectations, what constitutes abusive language/behavior and grounds for termination.

Next, you’ll want to establish a disciplinary process that all employees will undergo if they violate company policies. It’s usually best to have a three-step process:

  1. Employee receives a verbal warning
  2. Employee gets written up and reprimanded
  3. Employee is terminated

In order to stay compliant with laws/regulations and avoid unnecessary litigation, it’s important to treat all employees the same and hold everyone to the same standard.


Being Proactive

When it comes to addressing problem employees and their negative behavior, it’s crucial that it’s done in a timely manner. As Barney Fife would say, “You’ve got to nip it in the bud.” Take control of the situation and address it right away to prevent the problem from worsening. Many times, this will prevent a minor problem from snowballing into a major one, keeping operations on track.

Finally, address the problem behavior, not the person. Taking an adversarial tone will only escalate the situation and make matters worse. Remember to present the facts with the ultimate goal of improving the employee’s performance.


The chance of encountering problem employees at some point is high. Creating a game plan can minimize any problems and keep things running smoothly. Keep your business plan and philosophy in mind to remind you of your ultimate goals as a company.