By Julie Goh

In every workplace, there may come a time when employers and managers encounter a challenging employee. These individuals may exhibit behaviours that seem disruptive or difficult to manage. However, it is crucial to recognise that not all difficult employees are inherently bad or unproductive. In fact, beneath their challenging exterior, they may possess untapped potential and valuable skills that, if properly harnessed, can contribute positively to the company.

Understanding the Root Causes:

When faced with a difficult employee, it is essential to dig deeper and understand the underlying causes of their behaviour. Some common reasons for challenging behaviours include:

  1. Misalignment: The employee may feel disconnected from their role, lacking clarity on expectations or struggling to find their place within the company.
  2. Unaddressed Concerns: Persistent issues or grievances, such as a lack of recognition, inadequate resources, or unresolved conflicts, can lead to frustration and disruptive behaviours.
  3. Skill or Development Gaps: Employees may display difficult behaviours when they lack the necessary skills, knowledge, or guidance to perform their tasks effectively.
  4. Personal Challenges: Outside factors, such as personal issues or stressors, can impact an employee's behaviour and performance in the workplace.

Approaches to Unleashing Potential:

Rather than immediately labelling a difficult employee as "bad," consider employing the following strategies to uncover their hidden potential:

  1. Open Communication and Active Listening: Initiate a conversation to understand the employee's concerns, challenges, and aspirations. Actively listen and show empathy to create a safe space for them to express themselves.
  2. Individualised Support and Development: Identify areas where the employee may require additional training, coaching, or mentoring. Tailor development plans to address their specific needs and provide opportunities for growth.
  3. Clear Expectations and Goals: Establish clear performance expectations and provide regular feedback to align the employee's efforts with organisational objectives. Help them understand their role and contributions within the bigger picture.
  4. Recognition and Appreciation: Acknowledge and celebrate the employee's achievements and efforts. Genuine recognition can motivate them to channel their energy positively and reinforce desired behaviours.
  5. Conflict Resolution and Mediation: Address any conflicts or tensions within the team promptly and impartially. Encourage open dialogue and mediate when necessary to foster healthy working relationships.
  6. Constructive Feedback and Performance Management: Provide constructive feedback on areas for improvement while highlighting their strengths. Implement a performance management system that focuses on growth and development rather than solely punitive measures.

Dealing with a difficult employee does not always mean dealing with a bad employee. You will be surprised to know that well-known personalities such as Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney and Thomas Edison were sacked from their earlier jobs for being difficult employees. Walt Disney was actually fired as a cartoonist because he “lacked imagination and creativity, and had no good ideas.” However, with determination, resilience, and the right opportunities, these individuals overcame challenges and tapped into their talents, leaving a lasting impact in their respective fields.