Before we discuss the practical ways to handle difficult employees who are either not working or underperforming, let’s see what difficult employees mean.
Difficult employees are the problematic employees who don’t take responsibility for the work they are assigned.
These kinds of employees are everywhere, especially in startups and small businesses. It’s because of the culture and expectations of employees.
Startups and small businesses don’t implement all the values in the business culture, or at least employees underestimate values. There you are more likely to see difficult employees.
So if you are a small business owner or manager, you are definitely going to face difficult employees not working or not paying full attention to their jobs.
A couple of days ago, when I was inspecting employees’ performance, I realized that there are some employees who are pretending to work.
While exploring the situation, I realized it was not for no reason.
They are always some factors behind their underperformance. And if you have difficult employees at your workplace, there must be some reasons behind it.
Here are the common reasons for which employees don’t work or underperform. It’s lack of skills, toxic or biased culture, bad managers, health issues, or domestic issues.
So being a leader, business owner, or manager, it’s your responsibility to diagnose what’s the reason behind their underperformance.
Once you are sure, you can easily and directly convey your message to the employees, and things will get better.
Here are practical techniques to handle difficult employees not working or who are underperforming. I have practically used these techniques in my leadership role.
Collect solid evidence
This is from where you shall start the complete process. This is itself one of the best ways to make difficult employees work. Also, it’s a part of every strategy we have discussed here.
And it’s not an easy task.
First of all, let me be clear, I am working in an organization where it’s out of the question to kick employees off. So the only way is to make them work.
It’s beautiful because you don’t focus on kicking people off but make them work. If you can’t make them work, it’s your negligence.
But you have two methods to get them into work; one is to be rude and strictly ask them to follow the instructions, and second, slightly make them realize that they should work.
I follow the latter one.
I never get rude to employees.
So when you don’t want to be rude and want people to perform, you diagnose and be specific about what you want to change.
To achieve this goal, the first step is to get into the matter deeply and collect solid proofs.
The best scenario is that the employee should know what you are doing and what can be the consequences. Sometimes, it’s enough for employees and they take responsibility and start performing. But this doesn’t happen most of the time.
Here is how I collected the evidence.
I usually check all employees; those who are performing well and those who are not working.
In this way, no one feels that you are paying some extra attention to any matter. It always looks like a routine check-in.
In the routine biweekly check-in, I ask employees to provide me with all the details of what they have done in the last 2 weeks.
As I have asked employees to keep datewise records, thus it becomes easy to see what they were doing throughout the weeks.
Now you have enough data, what did the employee do, and if he has a grip on the project. What you should ask him to improve, and how easy or hard it is.
Sometimes, employees need appropriate training to develop some technical skills or sometimes they need guidance to organize work and improve the quality of work.
Many employees don’t meet your expectations because you are more organized and have enough knowledge to do quality work.
So once you have everything in your hands.
Call the employee at the office, and tell him/her the areas where he or she needs to improve.
I start by making them realize that this job is important to them and to the business. As it’s his/her duty so he is supposed to do work appropriately.
It will make employees realize that yes, it’s their job to do work and it’s important for the company.
Once you brainwash the employees, tell them the areas where they need to improve.
Make it so easy that they don’t feel it’s overburdened. If your expectations are to score 100, tell them to do 60% in the first meeting, don’t tell them that you are going to get them 100.
Even I break the performing score into 3 parts. I expect 33% in the very early days, then move on to the next 33%, and then get them in the race of 100.
It’s a long process but it makes employees feel easy in the work environment.
Once they achieve 60, make them realize that they have improved a lot but that’s not enough. And this process keeps going on.
Here is the benefit of collecting evidence.
Once you have enough data about the employees, it becomes the record of the company. Employees understand that this record can be dangerous to their future. They might lose jobs or at least won’t get promotions.
The shame of being caught, and the fear of losing their job make them realize that they don’t have any other option but work.
Be kind and gentle
Kind words and logical conversations can win any heart.Junaid Raza
It’s the responsibility of all leaders to be kind and gentle.
You can never be rude or disguise to any employee. Otherwise, the employee will prefer compromising on the job but won’t work under your control.
So even if you get angry with an employee for not performing, find the reasons why he/she is not doing the job well, sooner you will realize if the employee is habitual of cheating or if there are some reasons.
When you are biweekly or monthly inspecting all employees, you have enough data about all employees.
If good employees are not working for some days, there must be some reasons. The best way is to listen to them and try to solve their problems.
Many times, people can’t focus due to their domestic issues, you can listen to them, and make them realize that it’s part of life, and they should either forget the matter or do some meditation before coming to the office.
The kind and gentle words always hit the hearts.
You will get magical results.
This is what I learned while raising my children.
You can’t order your children because they won’t follow it. You can convince them with logic, giving them a reason to do it, and they will adopt it.
And it should be truth and reality. Otherwise, one day they will realize it and think about you as a cheater.
The same is for your employees.
If you are ordering your employees to follow, and don’t give them a reason to do it, or don’t show the consequences, and don’t tell them the benefits, employees won’t take it seriously.
Many managers believe that as employees are getting paid, so they know why they should work. But this isn’t logical to get difficult employees to work.
Managers should realize that they are also getting paid to get things done. So what are they doing if employees were supposed to outperform without any assistance?
As I had mentioned earlier in an article, 11 ways to make employees loyal, it’s a fact that everyone wants to do valuable things.
Once you make employees realize that their jobs are important for the company, and how they can easily do it; you will see a significant change in their performance.
Arrange appropriate training
Every company or business wants employees to outperform at work. But did you ever think of telling them what you want them to do and how to do it?
The training is the most important part of this process.
Whenever I join any organization, I first expect that my subordinates don’t know anything. I take meetings, and practically tell them how to do things right. And follow up biweekly if they are working on it.
Otherwise, even if they are doing their best, once you will check after some days or weeks, the work will be disappointing. It won’t be because of their fault but you didn’t tell them the right way.
So if you want difficult employees to work, make them realize that it’s an easy job, and it’s important for the company with appropriate training.
Guide them in setting SMART goals
It’s also important to help employees set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. Setting SMART goals have great importance in business.
Don’t expect that they know everything.
Even in the evergreen book, 1-minute manager, Ken Blanchard has focused a lot on offering appropriate guidance in the beginning.
So while offering early assistance, you should ask them a few questions:
- What are they going to achieve in the following month?
- How will they achieve it?
- Do they have any written weekly or biweekly plans to make it happen?
- What resources do they require to give their best?
If they have a written plan, check manually everything and verify if everything is practically possible. Otherwise, ask them to write a more realistic plan.
Keep a record and follow up
This is what I have learned in my managerial career.
If you don’t write and don’t follow up at the right time, it will make employees lazy, and underperforming. If you want your employees to outperform, you should be a man of words and character.
Let’s say, you guided an employee to work on a project, you said that you will check after a week, and you forget it, or you get lazy to check it.
It’s time when employees will take you as a non-serious manager and won’t follow your instructions next time.
One of my employees recently said to me, sir the difference between you and earlier managers is that you do things what you say.
I do because I keep a diary to note down every promise I made at the workplace.
In short, if you take responsibility for your work as a manager or business owner, even difficult employees will realize that there is no chance but work. Thus they will start working and performing on the following projects.
This is basically a piece of advice to all managers and small business owners.
Don’t get in a hurry. If you have caught employees not working or not doing their jobs properly, it doesn’t mean they will change instantly.
It always takes time to change. And slow change is permanent.
Here is what you should remember while improving your employee’s performance.
Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.
Hence, if you want to bring permanent change in employees’ performance, here is what you should do. Plan things for the long term, drip-feed your employees, follow up the process and be patient.