I had to learn how to deal with people with irritating personalities as a counterintelligence FBI agent. Walking away just because an informant was unpleasant was not an option. I needed to work with them and bring them onto my team because often they had unique information of value.
As entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders you will encounter a problem employee at some point. They can waste a lot of your valuable time and sow discord among the other employees.
Don’t get sucked into a vortex of frustration. Sometimes you need mental toughness to understand how to best deal with these types of employees. Here’s a list of the 8 most common problem employees and how to motivate them to improve their behavior:
1. The One Who Expects Perfection
There is always that problem employee who knows the right way to do things and is only too willing to show you. They have a tendency to make you, and others, feel flawed and judged. Their bottom line is often something like, “Let’s get it done right,” not “Let’s all be friends.”
Perfectionists are people who operate by the book and like to follow standard operating procedures. They can be a pain the butt if your work environment is chaotic because they are not comfortable with change.
TIP: Set up a clear chain of command and insist everyone go through proper channels. Start and end meetings on time—a perfectionist likes schedules. Explain exactly how you want things done; this provides the structure that the employee needs.
2. The One Who Wants To Be Your Best Friend
This is the problem employee who feels it’s all about relationships rather than the bottom line. They can take up an inordinate amount of time talking to you, and others, in an attempt to build that relationship.
The insecure ones are suck ups. Their lack of confidence in their skill set is compensated by using flattery and ingratiating behavior. They feel more comfortable leaning into personal relationships than applying their skills to get the job done.
TIP: Be generous with praise, but don’t reward them for fawning. Stick to the facts and never confront them with the problem. Most of them do not realize they have crossed the line.
3. The One Who Is An Overachiever
There is one in every crowd. As a leader, you may not recognize the overachiever as a problem employee. Authority figures tend to respond well to them because—well, they get things done! They go above and beyond what is asked or expected of them.
Overachievers can be impatient, with you and others. They often are not good team players and chafe at following strict rules. Be cautious about putting a perfectionist and an overachiever together on a project.
TIP: Don’t appeal to the warm and fuzzy side of their personality; they may not have one. Don’t micromanage them or ask them to slow down. Pay attention to the tension they may create with your less overachieving employees.
4. The One Who Thrives On Drama
Feelings and emotions are usually fairly close to the surface with this type of problem employee. They spend a lot of time in the depth of their tragedy and are often moody when things are not going well.
Frequently in emotional flux, dramatics tend to be inconsistent because they are mood driven and take things personally.
TIP: Be empathetic; they will feel valued and understood. If they become hysterial or overly dramatic, take a look at what is triggering it in their work environment. This employee does not do well in bureacracies or repetitious work. Instead, put them in work spaces where they can express themselves to others.
5. The One Who Analyzes Everything
Nerds are usually intelligent and thrive on scientific-like methods. They tend to be loners and not good team players. They attain their power from collecting information and knowing more than you do about a project.
Nerdy types like to feel prepared so give them plenty of advance warning if you need something. They’ll love you if you feed them information because knowledge is the currency that gives them the edge.
TIP: Don’t place this employee in a fast-paced environment where there’s no time to think or collect information. They do best in closed door situations where there are fewer interpersonal demands and interruptions.
6. The One Who Is A Worrier
Worrywarts are the ones who fret about everything, from their own abilities to your competence as a leader. They also tend to complain or second guess your decisions as a leader.
Never tell this problem employee to “not worry!” They will mistrust you and worry even more. They can be great strategists because they are always thinking. If you direct their energy toward worrying about how the competition might get a leg up, they can be a great resource.
TIP: They do not do well in environments where change is sudden or without notice. They perform best when there are clear rules to follow and where change is not introduced without preparation, caution, and all questions are answered.
7. The One Who Is A Slacker
We all dislike this problem employee and it’s tempting to eliminate the problem by firing them. If they are lazy and/or incompetent, sooner rather than later is best. Before you do, though, make sure you’ve come to the right conclusion about them. Make sure they are not bored or under-challenged.
Very often what they really need is more structure. Work with them to set goals and make these goals appeal to their emotion. They need to find a way to connect with their interests and strengths.
TIP: Often these are the people who thrive in environments that are in constant flux and change. Ask them lots of questions to get their creative juices flowing and then give them permission to follow through with their ideas.
8. The One Who Is Bossy
You have your very own Attila the Hun—lucky you! They thrive on taking charge and will not hesitate to undermine you if they don’t have ownership in the project. They do not hesitate to talk over people, including you, and use very forceful and blunt language to get their ideas across.
Bossy people don’t like to waste time dithering about what should be done. They respect leaders who say what they mean, so spit your news out fast and straight.
TIP: First, you need to determine whether the employee is a blowhard or whether they really can get in front of a situation, take the heat, and assume responsibility. Second, earn their respect. If they respect you as a leader, you can come together as a team.
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