6 Tips for Managing People who are Hard to Manage

It would be a sweet gig if every person you managed were easy to manage.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the case. As a manager you’ll find that occasionally, sometimes more than occasionally, you’ll come across an employee that’s hard to manage. And “hard” takes many forms. 

While, some are too aggressive and others not aggressive enough. There’s also the well-intentioned but high maintenance people, and the moody or easily distracted employees. And then some are just plain difficult.  So how do you manage this challenge?

1. Don’t fight it

The number one thing to do when you have an employee that’s difficult to deal with is don’t fight it. Don’t waste time or mental energy wishing they weren’t your employee or weren’t behaving the way they are. That tactic is futile. Instead, recognise that frustrations and difficult situations are part of the job. And remember, that’s why you’re being paid more! Approach delicate employees with a positive mindset, and accept the challenge rather than hide from it.

2. Deal with conflict fairly and constructively

If you don’t want to deal with conflict, management is probably not the right job for you. But while the best managers deal with conflict head-on, they also don’t pull rank and stand over others when conflicts occur. They understand that everyone has to continue to work together in the future and so seek fair, constructive resolutions.

3.  Try to understand why

There may be a genuine reason why a specific employee is hard to manage. Maybe they’ve always been this way, or perhaps new external factors are contributing. It might even be possible that you’re triggering their behaviour with your management style. If you can gain insight into why an employee is acting out, it could help you to figure out how to deal with them.

4. Seek help when you need it

This step is often neglected. As a manager, you might think you need to do the job on your own, as if asking for help is accepting defeat. But that’s not the case. It’s okay to get perspective on a problematic employee from someone whose judgment you trust. This person could be someone from Human Resources, a mentor, your manager, or a colleague. It’s smart managing, not a sign of weakness.

5. Set clear and measurable job objectives

Clear and measurable job objectives ensures that employees can’t argue with your expectations of them. Evaluating performance then becomes a matter of fact, rather than conjecture. Moreover, they can’t accuse you of “picking on them”. When you have clear and measurable objectives and a problematic employee isn’t achieving goals, you have something tangible to discuss.

6. Think in terms of assets and liabilities

Realistically, an employee is either an asset or a liability. What this means is that you need to think, is a hard to manage employee still contributing to the team? Are they still adding value to the business? Or are they a complete liability? If their disruptive qualities outweigh their good points, then they’re a liability, and it could be time to let them go. Of course, ensure you work closely with Human Resources for any termination. And refer to tip number 4 for advice and to make sure you’re letting them go for the right reasons!


Being a manager can be difficult at the best of times, let alone when you have a difficult employee. However, with these highly-effective strategies, you should have no problem in overcoming problematic employees.


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