How to Deal with Problem Employees

Solutions for Diffusing Difficult Issues

Daris Brown, Writer
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Share Now:

One rogue employee can destroy the chemistry and work ethic of the entire crew. Every organization has a proverbial bad apple. But what can you do? Do you send the employee home? Reprimand him in front of other employees to set an example? Do you do nothing at all?

How you manage your problem employee is critical. The answer could depend on the type of problem employee you have. Here's a quick overview of common types of problem employees and solutions to help defuse difficult situations before their attitudes and actions spread to the entire team.

The Slacker

He is the last to climb up on the roof, but the first to climb down. The Slacker is quick to go on break and finds any excuse not to put the hammer to the nails. Some slackers will get on the job but they don’t want to be there. Their production is substandard and their delays cost you money. Be careful with the lazy employee. When others on the crew realize how hard they are working compared to the slacker, they might reduce their output to match.

The Antagonist 

There’s always that one employee who can’t help but turn the job site upside down. The Antagonist has plenty of problems, but doesn’t speak directly to management about them.

On the job site, he has questions about pay, scrutinizes why the company didn't get the job and starts random debates. He gets your entire crew off task with a simple conversation. He talks about all the problems he can find with other employees, but is not open to change.

The Downer Dan

Nothing is ever good enough for the crew’s Downer Dan. The sun is too hot, the homeowner is overly demanding, his nail gun is too slow, the music is not as good as it used to be and the universe is against him — he always has a problem. He is a liability when it comes to your crew and customers. If you are not careful, his negative ways will bring down everyone he encounters.

Meeting Problems with Solutions

Gene Therrien, owner of Storm Master Exteriors in Freeland, MI, has a very specific way of dealing with people most managers would describe as problem employees: Get to know them, give them incentives and hold them accountable.

“By helping the individual, you help the team.”

—Gene Therrien

Some managers look at problem employees as a gift to the competition. Discard them and their problems and allow them to be the downfall to your competitors. But that is the wrong outlook to have.

Therrien looks at these employees as an opportunity to make a difference.

“Most people didn’t dream about being a roofer when they were kids,” he says. “They just fell into this job. There are a lot of younger guys who have issues, but that is mostly because people have continually given up on them. I can take those guys and give them hope. They are still young and valuable. They don’t have a long line of baggage. And when you help them out, they’re loyal.”

By helping the individual, you help the team. Therrien understands that often times the antagonist is angry because he has had something bad happen to him.

“We try and work through the issues and we are compassionate along the way,” Therrien says.

Storm Master Exteriors also has a rule on the jobsite to help combat The Slacker. If you are late and you are going to be the last man to the job site, you have to bring doughnuts. The technique calls out the behavior in a way that boosts morale without tearing down the individual in the process.

Your Downer Dan most likely is not intentionally trying to tear the company down. Therrien insists that any employee who has issues bring them to his attention. Workers should take responsibilities for their mistakes, if there are any, and Therrien will do his best help them.

“We spend a lot of time with these guys,” he says. “Employers have just as much responsibility to employees as employees do to the company.”

Therrien also runs a unique bonus program for his crew. A percentage of each dollar earned is set aside for a yearly bonus. If the crew causes any property or equipment damage on the job, money is taken from the bonus. If a yard isn’t cleaned up properly, and an extra clean-up crew is required, money is taken from the bonus. If a job takes longer than the contract allots, that money is also taken from the end-of-the-year bonus. The bonus system keeps the crew invested in holding one another accountable.

The bonus program is fully transparent, so the crew can see where they are at all times. Money is a great motivator. The crew will force The Slacker and The Antagonist to move faster, because any delays will cost them money. They don’t have time for Downer Dan’s excuses and will force this problem employee to get with the program. And the money doesn’t just motivate them to do it for themselves — they do it for each other. The bonus program creates a company and crew that will help support each other.