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How to deal with challenging employees

4 min read

How do you coach a challenging employee — someone who’s always late, constantly slacking off, resistant to change, consistently grouchy or chronically bullying others on your team — and when and how do you let them go?

Dr. Sara Mann

Associate Professor, Leadership and Management University of Guelph

Think administrative and motivational

From an administrative perspective, a farm owner wants to ensure their employees know what is required of them, measure performance fairly and accurately, document poor performance, provide continuous feedback and provide an opportunity to improve. However, motivating the challenging employee and all other employees who watch how you handle the situation is just as important.

From a motivational perspective, employers must ensure that the employee has everything needed to do the job at the farm. Ensure the challenging employee has a high level of self-efficacy. Not the same as self-esteem, self-efficacy is job-specific – does the employee believe they can do the job? An employee’s level of self-efficacy can be affected by many things: has the employer told them what is expected? Do they have the skills, tools, resources and time they need? If an employee is not performing well, it is often because they lack self-efficacy.

Perceptions of fairness, specifically procedural fairness, is also extremely important. Procedural fairness refers to how performance in the farm job is measured, how discipline is applied, who gets what, etc. The procedures used to handle this situation will be closely scrutinized by all employees, so ensure they're transparent and fair.

A challenging employee can lead to a toxic work culture. Sometimes, letting an employee go is the only way to deal with the situation, but only after sufficient attention has been spent on a fair and legally defensible discipline process.

Janice Goldsborough

Human Resource Professional, Trainer/Educator/Speaker The HR Basics

Find the cause

Challenging employees are a common occurrence in many workplaces, including farm operations. However, dealing with a disgruntled employee may feel like a very daunting task. So how do you change disruptive behaviour without resorting to termination?

Before considering termination, you may want to ask a few questions (both of yourself and the employee):

Is this normal behaviour for this employee, or has it just started recently?

If it’s normal, then discipline may be necessary to curb disruptive behaviour. If this is new behaviour, simply talking to the employee may help discover the reasons behind the change and ensure appropriate behaviour is understood.

Has the behaviour gotten worse? Is there a potential threat to others or to safety?

If so, then discipline may be required immediately.

Have you previously dealt with this behaviour (whether to this employee or another employee)?

If so, what was done? Was there a warning given to the employee? Was a letter placed in their file?  Was there any indication given to the employee regarding what may happen if this behaviour continues?

Ultimately, you want the behaviour to change or end. Corrective discipline may be required to ensure the employee is aware and allowed to change. If providing them with this opportunity does not work, termination may be the final resort.

Most employees do not want to be a challenge. Investigating the causes and finding an acceptable solution that works on your farm can result in a better work environment for all.

Jade Reeve

Manager, AgriJobs Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council

Provide support

A challenging employee can be a real challenge for management.

If the problem stems from a lack of productivity, the employee may lack motivation, be bored, see no room for career growth at the farm or be dealing with a personal problem.

Whatever the issue, encourage an open and honest discussion focusing on specific behaviours, not personal factors, to work towards positivity and openness for a resolution.

If, for example, an employee is resistant to change, such as to a new computer system, it’s a behaviour problem, and important to determine what’s behind that resistance. Has there been enough training? Does the employee require more training? Does the new system need improvement?

When it’s personal, employees may not be comfortable sharing what’s wrong. As an employer, it’s important to demonstrate concern and communicate available resources. Also, communicate expectations about the farm job and where accommodations can be made to assist the employee through a difficult personal period.

This lets the employee know they’re valued and cared about and that their health and wellness is important. It also helps ensure they can actively participate in a goal-setting plan to improve behaviour and productivity.

Challenging employees can create toxic work environments. Take swift action to protect the morale of the rest of the team and avoid worsening productivity levels and absenteeism.

If the challenging employee is undermining authority, determine the root.

Communication is fundamental to ensuring employees feel heard and understood.

But employers must also document expectations and specific consequences to show a challenging employee that change needs to happen, what objectives must be met, and what will happen if they aren’t.

Article by: Richard Kamchen

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