The term "difficult employee" is typically used to refer to a worker who fails to conduct himself or herself in a responsible, professional manner in the workplace. Effectively dealing with these types of workers can be among the greatest challenges that face smaller business owners and managers. After all, few people relish the prospect of disciplining or criticizing other people, either in or out of the work environment. But when problem employees emerge as an issue in the workplace, their failings must be addressed quickly and decisively. Otherwise, they can significantly erode company morale and efficiency. "For many entrepreneurs, disciplining employees is very difficult," admitted consultant Bob Turknett in Entrepreneur. "They tend to put it off, hoping the problems resolve themselves. But things just get worse."

Problematic employee behavior can take many different forms. Examples of such behavior range from pervasive negativism, which can be particularly dangerous because it so easily spreads to other employees, to abusive language and behavior toward coworkers, clients, customers, managers, or the small business owner. Other problems may include tardiness, shoddy and unprofessional work, substance abuse, or unappealing personality traits, any of which can disrupt business efficiency and hurt company teamwork and morale. In many cases, this unwelcome behavior is symptomatic of a general lack of motivation or focus on the part of the worker, and it can be stopped or curtailed by taking effective intervention steps. But in other cases, problem employees may simply be unable or unwilling to take the necessary steps to make themselves productive members of the company workforce. In such instances, termination of employment may be the only alternative for the small business owner or manager.


Management experts cite several steps that entrepreneurs and managers should take when dealing with a difficult employee.


Adkerson, D. Michelle. How to Manage Problem Employees. M. Lee Smith Publishers, 2000.

Giacalone, Robert A., and Jerald Greenberg, eds. Antisocial Behavior in Organizations. Sage Publishing, 1997.

Legal Issues in Managing Difficult Employees. Council on Education in Management, 1990.

McGarvey, Robert. "Lords of Discipline." Entrepreneur. January 2000.

Wood, Hal. Supervising Difficult Employees. American Media Publishing, 1998

Yate, Martin. Keeping the Best: And Other Thoughts on Building a Super Competitive Workforce. Adams, 1991.

SEE ALSO: Customer Retention

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