Tough issues tough people strategies for dealing with difficult employees
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Tough Issues, Tough People: Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Employees. February 21, 2006 Richard W. Sears, Psy. D., MBA [email protected] What Constitutes a “Difficult Employee?”. Different definitions depending on the individual

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Tough Issues, Tough People: Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Employees

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Tough Issues, Tough People:Strategies for Dealing withDifficult Employees

February 21, 2006

Richard W. Sears, Psy. D., MBA

[email protected]

What Constitutes a“Difficult Employee?”

  • Different definitions depending on the individual

  • Vice-president with “Personality Issues”

    • employees in tears at staff meetings – requisitions for a pencil

    • diversity concerns

    • employee fear of repercussions

    • VP acted nicely around superiors

    • President resigned

General Considerations

  • Framework for setting objective standards

  • Obstacles to objectivity

  • Mental health issues

  • Diversity issues

  • Legal considerations

Importance of Objectivity

  • Reduces impressions of favoritism

  • Minimizes concerns about “personality issues”

  • Provides clear standards of performance expectations

  • Serves as documentation in case of future problems

  • Provides legal record in case of litigation

Conference Agenda for Dealing with a Difficult Employee Behavior

I. Introduction

II. Report the Problem

III.Explore the causes of the problem

IV.Corrective Actions


(Also contains the 6 steps of an intervention model)

From Sears, R., Rudisill, R., & Mason-Sears, C. (2006). Consultation Skills for Mental Health Professionals. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Conference Agenda

I. Introduction

A. State the purpose of the meeting

B. State what you want to accomplish

Conference Agenda

II. Report the Problem

A. Step 1: Identify and define the performance problem

B. Step 2: Explain the impact of the problem

Conference Agenda

III.Explore the causes of the problem

A. Listen to employee’s thoughts and reactions to what you have reported

B. Step 3: Analyze the reasons for the problem1. Discuss reasons with employee; test your own ideas, as appropriate

2. Discuss your influence on the situation

Conference Agenda

IV.Corrective Actions

A. Step 4: Define the expected performance standard(s)

B. Step 5: Explore ideas for a solution

C. Step 6: Write the plan for improvement

Conference Agenda


A. Recap key points and review your plan to finalize it

B. Make sure a follow-up meeting is set

Case follow-up

  • New president gathered data

  • Met with VP

  • Set performance standards

Obstacles to Objectivity

  • History with the individual

  • Personal biases

  • Talking/listening to third parties

  • Unreasonable expectations

Emotional Management

  • Development of competence in handling your own as well as the emotions of others

  • Emotions come in layers

  • Importance of self-monitoring

ABC Framework

A  B  C

A = antecedent / activating event

B = belief / behavior

C = consequence

Mental Health Issues

  • Must balance reasonable accommodations with reasonable performance expectations

  • Importance of EAP (Employee Assistance Program)

Common Mental Health Issues

  • Stress

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • PTSD

  • Personality Disorders

    • Narcissistic

    • Antisocial

    • Schizoid

    • Borderline

If in doubt, consult!

  • Talk to supervisors

  • Discuss with peers (considering confidentiality)

  • Maintain contact with professional groups

  • Consider legal & ethical ramifications

  • Consider diversity issues

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