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Problem Employees

Written By: The H.S. Group

Liars and manipulators; insensitive, quarrelsome, arrogant and irresponsible - these types of employees can create havoc within a department or organization. If you haven’t had the displeasure of working with one, consider yourself lucky. Unfortunately, many of us encounter and/or have to work with these problem employees on a frequent basis.

These employees may be smooth talkers and are often intelligent and highly political. They seem to spend more time schmoozing than actually working, and it is always someone else’s fault when something goes wrong or a deadline is missed. Even when the finger clearly points back at them, because of their “relationship” with people in power, they are given a second chance and their emotional outbursts and mistakes are often forgiven.

Though they can make a very good first impression and seem to be a good friend, their feelings about others may actually be superficial. They lack real empathy and use people until they are no longer needed. It is not uncommon for them to spread rumors about others so they look good by comparison. However, if one looks closely at what these people actually contribute, there is very little there.

As managers, these people can destroy morale, motivation and ultimately productivity. Ironically, they blame the victim of their behavior (often an excellent performer) who tires of this type of treatment and leaves the organization. As peers or subordinates, these people can destroy a team, causing dissent and mistrust within the ranks due to their idle chatter about other team members - invariably in a negative, highly critical manner.

So What Can You Do?

One key to working with these individuals is to document issues. In discussions with problem managers, peers or subordinates, it is important to get things in writing. For example, after a conversation with the employee, confirm such things as project goals, timeframe, available resources, expected outcome and individual areas of responsibility via email. This serves as documentation of what was agreed upon and can be used as evidence if the problem employee later describes the situation differently to account for his/her failure and tries to shift the blame to someone else.

Secondly, don’t get taken in by first impressions or flattery. These types of employees are able to manipulate situations and use flattery to win people over, which enables them to be viewed more favorably when conflict arises. They are politically astute and tend to develop close, though artificial, relationships with those in power. Actions speak louder than words, so look for what a person actually does rather than what he/she says. As a manager, objectively assess performance. Don’t be deceived by a problem subordinate’s on-going list of excuses and empty promises. As a peer, avoid being used (e.g., doing the work of another employee who always claims to be busy but rarely seems to be actually working). Don’t fall for his/her insincerity - this person may be using you.

Lastly, try to avoid this issue from the start by improving your selection process. Realize that these types of employees may have no difficulty lying about or exaggerating their background. Prior to hiring them, verify their educational credentials and talk not only to their references, but to others who have worked with them. Through the use of objective assessments and behavioral interviews, confirm that what was listed on the resumé or implied by the assessment results is actually true. If the person’s answers are hard to believe and don’t seem to make sense, they probably aren’t true.

Some people have bad luck, but if terrible things continually happen around an individual, the problem may not be bad luck but rather the employee him/herself.



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