Whether you are working in a company of 10 or 10,000, you probably work with some difficult people. Though this can be trying, even more challenging is managing a difficult employee.

What is a difficult employee? Difficult employees are either not doing things you want them to do, or they are doing things you do not want them to do. Difficult employees impact the ENTIRE TEAM and everyone is watching to see how you will handle it!

Who are difficult employees? They can be divas, procrastinators, know-it-alls, victims, bullies, gossips, naysayers…you get the picture! They come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ages and styles. Guess what? We are all difficult to someone. While you are dealing with “them” and rolling your eyes, someone may be doing the same with you.

How to you avoid hiring a difficult person? You must first clearly define the role, performance expectations and metrics or results you are trying to achieve. In my experience, problems occur when a company does not identify or clearly define the behavioral characteristics that are not acceptable in the workplace.

Let’s say you work in a service related field and a desired characteristic for your employees is compassion for the customer. What exactly does that mean? Is compassion genuine with a dose of caring and concern, or is it scripted and fake? Your customer can tell the difference. Another frequently desired trait for employees is integrity. One definition of integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. Another definition might be doing the right thing when convenient or based on the situation. You might assume the first answer is the correct one for you and the candidate. Unless you ask the candidate a behavioral based interview question, you don’t have their point of view. Managers frequently say, “I am really surprised, I thought the person had these skills”. They then determine that is not the case and is the result of an expectation that was not validated.

What do you do if you are managing a difficult employee? As soon as you see an undesirable behavior exhibited, you need to provide feedback. This takes leadership and managerial courage but the team is watching to see how you react. Remember, small problems become large problems if ignored over time. Ask the employee if they are aware of their behavior and what is causing it? Then you have to listen. You may learn that their behavior is a result of a business situation that can be changed. The employee may also respond that they don’t know what you are talking about and that there is no problem. If you have not clearly identified the behaviors that are not acceptable in the workplace, now is the time to be clear and follow up with all employees. If you have defined these unacceptable characteristics (negativity, gossip, etc.), communicate that the exhibited behaviors cannot continue because they are affecting the performance of the team. If the behaviors continue, follow the progressive discipline process until the behavior is changed or the employee leaves the organization..

Putting up with the behavior and hoping it will go away is a very potent drug called HOPIUM. The outcome of HOPIUM is the situation stays the same and you are frustrated and fellow employees are disengaged..

When the behavior of a difficult employee is allowed to continue, you give license that it is acceptable and the behavior starts to become common. Carefully determine what you will/will not tolerate in the workplace regarding performance and acceptable behavior, clearly communicate and “walk the talk”.