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How to Manage Difficult Employees With Bad Attitude

Do you have a highly skilled hard working staff employee with a bad attitude? If YES, here are 8 effective ways to manage difficult employees. At some point in your career as a manager or a leader, you’ll have to deal with a co-worker or an employee who really tests your patience with their attitude.

Bad attitudes and individuals who exhibit them are unhealthy for teams and the workplace in general. Employees with bad attitudes are just as distracting to the organisation that they need to be handled promptly to avoid problems. This is why managing difficult employees is a very important leadership skill. Managing or being a leader would be a lot easier if it weren’t for things like employees with bad attitudes.

Indeed, good employees are the greatest assets of any lucrative organisation and you need to learn to leverage their talents and navigate a few of the challenges they occasionally present. Finding out the cause of an employee’s negativity can go a long way to help you become a better coach. We all have our bad days, but a persistent bad attitude usually means there is something wrong.

Using employee assessments can bring to light certain personality traits, and this can be very helpful for managers. According to reports, these assessments are often great places to begin a difficult conversation with a problematic employee.

With the information provided, managers can decide how to best develop and communicate with the employee. But when evaluating the situation and preparing to talk with the difficult employee, it will be very helpful if you ask yourself these questions:

6 Questions to Ask While Evaluating the Employee

  • Is the employee’s change in attitude recent?
  • Has the employee’s workload or responsibility changed?
  • Did something recently happen in the individual’s life that could have triggered an attitude shift?
  • Have you contributed to the problem by neglecting to deal with behavioural issues?
  • Is there a problem not just with the employee but with the entire team the employee is on?
  • Is there a culture or history of accepting poor behaviours?
  • Is there a general problem with communication and communication tools?

If after attempting these questions you still feel it is a single employee matter, you can then confront the employee privately and respectfully. Do not fall into the temptation of walking around the problem or waiting and see if the employee gets better on his/her own or simply quits. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way.

What Constitutes a Bad Attitude?

Bad attitudes are something you need to understand fully if you want to accurately handle and rectify them. What might come out as a bad attitude in your home might differ with what can be perceived as bad attitude in the workplace.

An employee might vocally go against management decisions, gossip about what they consider to be poor decision making, or may otherwise spread dissent among the ranks, with an overall poor perception of those leading the show.

Also an employee may fail to carry out company policies they believe are unacceptable, or may otherwise under-perform because they don’t feel an approach is right or appropriate. But you shouldn’t forget that a bad attitude is different from an occasional disagreement; a bad attitude is an over-arching dislike or disdain for management as a whole.

a. Negativity towards the company

You may have those select employees who continuously make annoying remarks about company leaders, co-workers, the day-to-day operations or in fact everything. This bad attitude and negative feelings towards the organization can affect the company’s goals and hurt the overall workplace environment. To successfully handle such challenges you will need to answer these few questions:

  • Do you know the causes of the employee’s negativity?
  • Have you really listened?
  • Have you reviewed your vision for the organization or department?
  • Have you shown how their work and responsibilities are aligned with the organization’s?

b. Lazy and/or unmotivated

In the workplace, they may be employees who aren’t properly engaged in their work and spend most of their time goofing around and causing distractions.

Reports have it that disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects in the United States this past year. And their behaviour can contaminate engaged workers who may feel bad or cheated watching a co-worker get away with this lack of productivity.

c. Insubordinate challenges to authority

No doubt, managing employees with bad attitudes can be very difficult. These employees might refuse to perform a task just to prove a point or they could undermine your authority by talking negatively about the project or you. We all can agree that this is disrespectful and needs to be handled immediately. But before you start thinking of confronting the worker, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you sure that the behaviours you’ve identified as insubordinate aren’t simply a matter of confusion or unclear communication?
  • Have you provided clear expectations? And followed through on consequences for actions, both positive and negative?

d. Overly argumentative or bullying

You may also encounter employees who taunt and pick fights with other employees in the workplace. This sort of attitude creates an uncomfortable and negative team environment. Reports have it that an employee who bullies others is even more challenging. But before you handle this issue openly, answer these following questions:

  • Do you have employee standards and policies?
  • Is there a bigger problem with the workplace culture?

How to Deal With Employees With Bad Attitudes in 8 Steps

To succeed as a manager/leader in an organisation you will need to know how to manage difficult employees effectively. Have it in mind that not everyone who works for you will be a model employee, but your ability to remain calm when confronted with difficult employees who have a bad attitude is very necessary.

1. Evaluate and Keep Records

Although action is essential and advisable, it is very crucial that you momentarily pause and evaluate the situation so that you are armed with a clearer perspective. Take time to observe the employee in different settings, note behaviours that introduce stress or toxicity into situations, observe how others react to the employee, then accurately document these situations.

Have it in mind that you can handle workers with bad attitudes internally without terminating their contract with the company. But, it is always a good idea to have consistent documentation highlighting concrete examples of worsening behaviour, should it get to that point where termination seems like the best option.

2. Observe and never Ignore the Problem

It’s advisable as a manager that you avoid responding to complaints or innuendos without properly observing and checking out the issue yourself. Talk to the people involved and get first hand knowledge of what’s happening. Do not forget to collect and document all the facts you can before you act.

And don’t discount that occasionally, everyone has a bad day or week. If a normally easy-to-work-with employee is suddenly uncooperative and uncommunicative, consider that there may be instigating circumstances. Also even if you don’t enjoy confrontation, do not make the mistake of ignoring an employee with a bad attitude, hoping that their behaviour will magically change.

By pushing these issues under the carpet, team management becomes more talk and less actions as negative attitudes and bad behaviour begin to cause widespread issues, such as worsening productivity and low morale among all employees. Anytime you are thinking of the best way to manage difficult staff, the first thing to consider is taking some form of action, whether that means speaking to those involved or opting to document the issues they are causing.

3. Develop a Plan

Based on your observations, assess whether the situation merits coaching, counselling, training or discipline.

  • Coaching emphasizes specific behaviour modification.
  • Counselling specializes on problem behaviours and comes with implications, including, “You need to cease doing (behaviour), or, you will be placed on a performance program and potentially fired.” These situations often turn into coaching activities.
  • Training supports skill development and helps fill knowledge gaps.
  • Discipline reflects an immediate improvement program with implications. Make certain to involve your human resources team.

Note that the time invested in thinking of where you want the situation to go will pay off extensively during the actual discussion. A lot of modern managers write out the opening sentence of their discussions with the employees just to make sure things go according to plan.

4. Take Time to Listen

You have to understand that not all problematic employees require a strict disciplinarian approach. In this modern age, a successful manager must know and appreciate that listening is pivotal to effective communication. Most often, managers make the mistake of making assumptions about particular employees without taking time or striving to listen to them and understand their perspectives.

If you can listen to your employee, you might find that your difficult worker has developed an unhealthy attitude maybe due to personal problems outside of work. We humans at some points just need to get things off our chest from time to time.

While talking with the difficult employee, actively listen to what they say. Stay calm and positive. Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered in one or two words. Don’t interrupt. When you do respond to the difficult employee, remain calm. Summarize back to them what they just said, “So what I understand you are saying is…,” so they know you are listening to them.

If you can find out from the difficult employee what the real source of the inappropriate behaviour is, you have a much better chance of finding a solution. Your company can also try to offer resources to employees to help them with their individual difficulties.

5. Stay Professional

Unless you’re not human, it is very easy to become emotionally invested in other people’s issues, but this is never a good idea especially for a workplace manager. A very good and talented employee who starts showing a poor attitude at work can tempt you to get involved too deeply because you know he or she is not living up to his or her potential, both as an employee and as a person.

Do not fall into that temptation as its disadvantages overwhelms any perceived benefits. While listening and advising your difficult employees on their attitude or behaviour is fine, always strive to maintain a strict professional distance from the underlying issues they might be experiencing.

When you become personally involved, you are likely to make poor management decisions. Don’t forget that your goal is to develop a solution, not to win. Try to focus more on the inappropriate behaviour and not the person. Don’t assume the inappropriate behaviour is caused by negative intent. It may be from fear, confusion, lack of motivation, personal problems, etc.

6. Give Clear, Constructive Feedback

Have it at the back of your mind that you’ll have to provide direct feedback to people if you want to learn how to manage difficult employees. Before an issue gets out of hand, it is advisable that you offer corrective feedback as early as possible.

Note that letting negative attitudes permeate the workplace over a long-term can create a destructive environment. Also note that how you convey your feedback to problematic employees can make all the difference in terms of receptiveness and acceptance to change.

7. Create Consistent Standards

The result of confronting a difficult employee’s inappropriate behaviour is to find a solution. You know that this inappropriate behaviour will continue unless you and the employee agree on a solution. The employee needs to know what is inappropriate about their behaviour so that they can adjust their approach.

It’s very necessary that you establish consistent standards for the attitudes you expect from your employees. Note that successful managers are not selective in terms of their standards. Different rules should not apply to different people.

Problematic personnel often have a shorter fuse, which can tempt managers into being too lenient when appraising their work. Don’t forget that attitude is a huge part of effective team management. Creating standards you will adhere to, no matter the person or circumstance, will lead to increased employee morale and mutual respect.

8. Spell Out the Consequences and show courage

Difficult workers tend not to change their behaviour if they think their actions will never lead to any actual consequences. When sitting down for a discussion with tricky employees, it is always a good idea to get specific about what will happen if they do not alter their behaviours. Indeed dismissing a person from their job is one of the hardest things you might have to do as a manager, but it’s important to show courage and act when the situation calls for it.

For instance, an employee that shows no signs of improvement, even after several warnings, isn’t likely to change. Have it in mind that losing one employee is not the end of the world, particularly if that person doesn’t approach their work correctly. Also, it is better to lose just one worker than to lose your whole workforce.


Transparent communication is always a valuable leadership skill, but it is especially important when handling an employee with bad attitude. Focus on maintaining professionalism throughout sensitive discussions and give constructive feedback with authority. Always understand and follow HR policies and procedures whenever you are reviewing an employee’s behaviour.

If you find you have difficulties in confronting an employee, ask for help from your HR department or consider getting a management or leadership coach. After you must have given a reasonable time for a change in behaviour (but not so long that it appears you forgot or don’t care,) schedule time to return to the behavioural discussion and to give feedback on noted changes or the lack thereof.

Letting employees go means not only having to replace them, but also having to delegate that work to others thereby compounding the issue and potentially creating another disgruntled employee. Try not to put yourself or other employees in a challenging situation later because you don’t want to deal with a difficult employee today.