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Handling Problem Employees

Unfortunately, not every employee you hire will be a perfect fit for the job.  While many workers are great team contributions, others may not be.  There are going to be some workers that create problems in the workplace or attempt to elude work any way they can.  While some cause friction at work, others will allow their personal troubles to interfere with their attendance or performance.  No doubt, problem employees can significantly affect a company’s bottom line unless handled appropriately.

Types of Problem Employees

By classifying problem employees, we are more apt to identify and help them accordingly.  Such workers are:

  • The Attacker – This is the person who always disagrees with what you or other team members say.  He attempts to undermine you while sabotaging your team’s goals.
  • The Comic – Such an employee acts as if their main job is to entertain all the other workers.  While laughter in the workplace is great, it should not be carried on so excessively that it affects a department’s productivity.
  • The Deserter – This person chooses to abandon their job either in a mental or physical sense, drops out, and stops contributing.  Even though they may be present, they just stop producing.
  • The Limelight Seeker – The employee takes credit for what others have done and goes around boasting about how important they are to the organization.
  • The Moonlighter – Any worker that treats their job as secondary importance to their personal interests.  For example, such a person may contemplate becoming an entrepreneur and may think that establishing their home business is more crucial than their job.  Another may spend most of their time running the department’s football pool. 
  • The Not-My-Jobber – This person refuses to do anything not written in their job description.  When asked to help out in an irregular task, the person will say something like, “It’s not my job.  Why should I do it?”
  • The Bleeding Heart – Such an employee feels she has given her whole life to the company and has received nothing in return and wants everyone to know it.  The bleeding heart more than likely has no enjoyable life outside of work.
  • The Chronic Complainer – This type likes to moan and complain about everything from the workload, coworkers, the supervisor, working conditions, etc.  They are likely to complain about non work-related issues as the drive to work, the weather, the time of day, or their family problems.  

How Problem Employees Are Mishandled

Too often, unproductive workers are transferred to other departments.  Sometimes this may serve as a solution, especially if the employee’s skills are better suited for this line of work. But if unloading an undesirable employee into another section is for the sole purpose of getting rid of them, there is likely to be conflict between the former and the new supervisor.  This is typically because the old manager made a deceptive recommendation to convince the new manager that this worker is ideal for their team.  In such an event, retaliation is likely to occur which is only counterproductive to the well-being of the organization.


Sometimes rehabilitation is necessary to increase the skill level of an unproductive employee.  If this is done, everyone involved with his performance must be aware of it.  Whenever a job and an employee are not a good fit, the manager may feel this less-than-satisfactory worker is worth another chance.  Hence, training them in a different department may be the answer.  

Employee Assistance Programs

Nowadays, most all companies offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to workers who have personal problems such as chemical dependency, drug addiction, psychological, or family problems.  Such a program can help subordinates who allow their troubles to interfere with their attendance or performance.  They can get their problems resolved in a confidential manner.  These programs are usually community supported unless a corporation is large enough to have an EAP of their own.  

As a manager, it is your job to see that the work is done on time and correctly.  You should never attempt to handle a personal problem beyond your level of professional competence.  If you do, you are running the risk of making the problem even worse.  After all, you don’t have all the capacity and resources necessary to solve all your workers’ problems.

One-On-One Discussions

Sometimes employees exhibit inappropriate behavior at work.  If you allow the worker’s behavior to slide, you will lose trust and confidence in your coworkers.  They are likely to conclude that either you don’t know how to handle the problem or you just don’t care.  Therefore, it is important to have a private discussion with the employee, making them aware of their offending behavior, state some examples, and agree on a solution for handling it.  Every so often, employees need feedback to improve their performance.  If the employee has made efforts to correct their behavior, praise them for doing so.


Josh Raymond is an HR consultant who has been involved with small businesses for several years. Josh is blogging often for Breathe HR.