Mastering employee management: How to deal with difficult employees as a new manager?

Mastering employee management: How to deal with difficult employees as a new manager?

Becoming a manager is an exciting step in an individual’s career journey, filled with opportunities for growth, development, and taking charge of a team’s success. However, as you step into this new role, you may encounter a challenging aspect of leadership: dealing with a difficult employee. These individuals can test your patience, communication skills, and ability to maintain a harmonious work environment.

But fear not! This blog will unlock the secrets of how to deal with difficult employees as a new manager. Whether you’re facing resistance, conflicts, or underperforming team members, we’ll provide practical ways and valuable insights to help you navigate these complex situations confidently and achieve positive outcomes.

Why is it important for new managers to deal with difficult employees?

It is important for new managers to deal with difficult employees for several reasons:

  • Maintaining a productive work environment: Difficult employees can negatively impact team morale, productivity, and overall work atmosphere. Addressing their behavior or performance issues is crucial to ensure a harmonious and productive work environment for the entire team.
  • Preserving team dynamics: Difficult employees can disrupt team dynamics and create conflicts among team members. By addressing the issues and resolving conflicts, new managers can maintain a cohesive and collaborative team, which is essential for achieving goals.
  • Ensuring fairness and equity: Dealing with difficult employees demonstrates that the manager values fairness and equity within the team. It sends a message that all team members are expected to abide by the same standards of behavior and performance, promoting a sense of fairness and equality among the team.
  • Minimizing the impact on other employees: Difficult employees can significantly impact the morale and motivation of their colleagues. If left unchecked, their behavior or performance issues can spread negativity and hinder the performance of other team members. Addressing these issues promptly helps protect the well-being and productivity of the entire team.
  • Legal and compliance reasons: Some difficult employee behaviors may cross legal boundaries or violate company policies. Managers are responsible for addressing such issues to ensure compliance with laws and regulations and maintain a safe and inclusive work environment for all employees.
  • Retention and talent management: Difficult employees can hurt employee retention rates. If their behavior goes unaddressed, it can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration among other team members, potentially causing them to seek employment elsewhere. By managing difficult employees effectively, new managers can help retain top talent and reduce turnover.
  • Personal and professional development: Supporting difficult employees in their personal and professional growth can be a rewarding experience for managers. By identifying the underlying causes of their difficulties, managers can offer guidance, mentorship, and resources to help these individuals overcome their challenges. This approach benefits the employee and cultivates loyalty and trust within the team.
  • Setting a positive example: Managers are role models for their team members. Managers demonstrate their commitment to accountability, professionalism, and teamwork by actively addressing difficult employee situations. This sets a positive example for others, encouraging them to address their challenges and conflicts constructively.
New managers must approach these situations with empathy, active listening, and clear communication to address the underlying issues effectively.

10 Steps: How to deal with difficult employees as a new manager?

As a new manager, dealing with a difficult employee requires a thoughtful and proactive approach. Some steps to help you navigate these situations effectively:

  • Identify the specific issue: Take the time to understand the nature of the difficulty or problematic behavior displayed by the employee. Identify the problem and gather relevant information or evidence to support your observations.
  • Gather feedback: Talk to other team members or colleagues dealing with a difficult employee to gain additional insights. Their perspectives can provide a broader understanding of the situation and help you assess the impact on the team.
  • Plan for a private conversation: Schedule a private meeting with the difficult employee to discuss the issue. Choose a neutral and comfortable location to have an open and honest conversation without interruptions.
  • Choose the right approach: Tailor your approach based on the specific situation and the employee’s personality. Use a collaborative and supportive tone to encourage dialogue and maintain a respectful atmosphere. Be prepared to adapt your approach as the conversation unfolds.
  • Active listening: Allow the employee to express their thoughts and concerns. Practice active listening by giving them full attention. Validate their feelings and demonstrate empathy to build trust and encourage open communication.
  • Specific feedback: Clearly articulate the problematic behavior and provide specific examples to support your observations. Be objective, factual, and avoid personal attacks. Focus on the impact of their behavior on the team rather than making it personal.
  • Seek their perspective: Allow the employee to share their story. Encourage them to express their challenges, concerns, or any underlying factors contributing to their difficulties. This can help you understand their perspective and identify potential solutions.
  • Collaborative problem-solving: Engage the employee in finding solutions to address the issue. Discuss potential strategies, offer suggestions, and ask for their input. This collaborative approach helps foster ownership and commitment to the resolution process.
  • Develop an action plan: Work with the employee to develop a specific action plan to address the difficulties. Set achievable goals, establish timelines, and define measurable objectives. 
  • Monitor progress: Keep a close eye on the employee’s progress and behavior after the initial conversation. Provide continuous feedback and support as they work towards improvement. Acknowledge positive changes and address any setbacks promptly.
Each situation is unique, and these steps should be adapted to fit the specific circumstances and the individual employee involved. 

How does dealing with a difficult employee benefit new managers?

Dealing with a difficult employee can benefit new managers in several ways:

  • Leadership development: Dealing with difficult employees allows new managers to develop leadership skills. They learn to navigate challenging situations, handle conflicts, and make tough decisions. These experiences help them grow as leaders.
  • Conflict resolution skills: Managing difficult employees requires effective conflict resolution skills. New managers have the chance to develop their ability to listen, empathize, and mediate conflicts. These skills are valuable for dealing with difficult employees, fostering collaboration, and resolving conflicts.
  • Improved communication: Dealing with difficult employees requires clear and effective communication. New managers learn to articulate expectations, provide constructive feedback, and address concerns or issues directly. Through these interactions, they enhance their communication skills.
  • Personal and professional growth: Dealing with difficult employees provides valuable learning experiences for new managers. It challenges them to think critically, adapt their approach, and develop creative solutions. These experiences contribute to their personal and professional growth, enabling them to handle similar challenges confidently.
  • Recognition as an effective manager: Successfully managing difficult employees can establish a new manager’s reputation as an effective and capable leader. This recognition can lead to increased opportunities for career advancement and the trust and respect of both superiors and colleagues.
Dealing with a difficult employee allows new managers to develop essential leadership and management skills while fostering a positive work environment.

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Things new managers should avoid when dealing with a difficult employee

When dealing with a difficult employee, new managers should avoid certain pitfalls, such as:

  • Ignoring or delaying action: Avoid ignoring or procrastinating on addressing the difficulties presented by the employee. Timely action is essential to prevent the issue from escalating and negatively impacting the team or work environment.
  • Taking an aggressive approach: Avoid approaching the conversation aggressively. Maintaining a calm and professional tone is important to foster open communication and constructive dialogue.
  • Making assumptions: Avoid assumptions about the employee’s intentions, motivations, or character. Treat each situation individually and base your actions and decisions on factual information rather than generalizations or personal biases.
  • Being inconsistent or playing favorites: Ensure consistency and fairness in your approach. Avoid favoritism or treating different employees differently based on personal preferences. Apply the same standards and consequences to all employees facing similar difficulties.
  • Neglecting documentation: Maintaining thorough documentation of conversations, actions taken, and any agreements reached during the process is essential. Avoid failing documentation, as it serves as a reference and helps maintain a record of the situation.
  • Neglecting self-reflection and personal growth: New managers must reflect on their approach, communication style, and actions. Avoid neglecting self-reflection and personal growth. Continuously seek opportunities to enhance your leadership and management skills to navigate difficult employee situations better.
  • Not seeking help when needed: If the difficulties persist or escalate despite your efforts, do not hesitate to seek guidance from your manager, human resources, or any appropriate support channels. Asking for assistance is a sign of strength and shows your commitment to resolving the issue effectively.
By avoiding these pitfalls, new managers can manage difficult employee situations more effectively and professionally.


In the ever-evolving leadership landscape, dealing with a difficult employee is an inevitable challenge for new managers. Remember, effective management of difficult employees starts with self-reflection, empathy, and open communication. By actively listening to their concerns, understanding their perspectives, and collaboratively finding solutions, you can create a work environment that fosters trust, productivity, and employee satisfaction.

As a new manager, you can transform challenging situations into catalysts for positive change. Dealing with a difficult employee presents an opportunity for personal and professional growth, strengthening your leadership skills, and solidifying your reputation as a capable and empathetic manager.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so transforming difficult employees may take time and persistence. Stay committed to your role as a new manager, seek guidance when needed, and continue to refine your skills. With patience and dedication, you will pave the way for a harmonious and thriving work environment.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you handle difficult situations as a manager?

– Act with composure and remain calm.
– Gather all relevant information before taking action.
– Communicate openly and honestly with all parties involved.

How do you handle an employee who doesn’t want to be managed?

– Establish clear expectations and goals for the employee.
– Provide regular feedback and address performance concerns promptly.
– Engage in open and honest conversations to understand their perspective.

How do you lead a tough team?

Set a positive example through your own behavior and work ethic.
Address conflicts or issues promptly and directly.
Provide support and resources to help team members improve.

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