How to Reform 4 Types of 'Problem Employees'

by Jaimy Ford

3 min read

No matter how hard you strive to recruit and hire overachievers, you may occasionally miss the mark. Given the high cost of turnover, your best bet is to try to reform poor performers before considering termination.

Here are four common types of “problem employees” — and what to do if one of them works for you.

1. The Whiner — He may be an overt complainer or simply someone who puts a negative spin on every idea that’s floated. In either case, as his negativity spreads, he brings down morale and productivity.

Action steps: The Whiner often just wants to be heard. Acknowledge his feelings and empathize with him. Never dismiss his emotions (or he’ll whine louder). Make it a standard rule that anyone who complains about something must also provide at least one workable solution to the problem — and hold the employee to it when he comes to you to gripe.

Say things like, “I understand how frustrated you are. What are your solutions for resolving the problem?” As you do that, you program the employee to become solution-focused and more likely to resolve issues (vs. whine about them).

2. The Emotional Time Bomb — She bursts into tears or blows up in anger at a moment’s notice. This makes others uncomfortable, and they start to avoid her, which impedes teamwork.

Action steps: First off, you want to help an emotional employee settle down; otherwise, she can’t cooperate with you. Don’t try to rationalize or switch into problem-solving mode. Instead, stay calm, so the employee can mirror your demeanor. Next, let her vent fully.

Say things like, “I can see that you are upset. Let’s talk about what’s going on.” Find out what happened and who else is involved. Acknowledge the reasons for the emotions, and work with the employee to seek solutions. Explain that her behavior is inappropriate at the office, and ask the employee to come to you before she reaches the tipping point of emotional outburst in the future.

3. The Glory Hog — This is the employee who takes credit for other people’s ideas or work, yet when things go wrong he’s quick to blame someone else. In addition, he demeans others’ efforts in an attempt to make himself look good. The result: His co-workers become resentful, and tensions rise. They stop communicating because they don’t want their ideas stolen.

Action steps: Ensure that you are giving credit where it’s due by getting progress reports from staffers about everything they’re working on. Encourage all employees to contribute ideas, and listen to what each person has to say. Additionally, when the Glory Hog boasts about success on a project, ask him to acknowledge the people who helped out along the way. That practice will put him in the habit of sharing credit. If you don’t see improvement, meet with him to explain that you value collaboration and you don’t condone bragging or dishonesty.

Understand that the Glory Hog often steals credit because he feels insecure, so put his mind at ease by telling him how much you value him. Say things like, “You are a very talented person. Your ability to connect with the clients is exceptional, and we need you on this team.”

4. The Slacker — She doesn’t take on her fair share of the work. She relies on others to pick up the slack. And she often tends to personal business on the clock. Meanwhile, as co-workers cover for the Slacker to get the job done, they become overwhelmed and stressed out. When her laziness goes unchecked by you, morale plummets.

Action steps: Make the Slacker aware that you know how she spends her time, citing specific examples of where she’s falling short of expectations. Assign her more responsibilities, explaining that because she spends so much time on personal activities, she must not have enough work to do. Provide an updated job description or task list, and set clear goals, including a timeline for completion.

Say things like, “I hold you accountable for every item on this list. You are to complete everything on time and accurately. I also want you to refrain from conducting any personal business at work. I expect to see immediate improvements and want you fully up to speed within the next two weeks.”

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