Ignoring Them Won’t Work … Embrace your office ‘misfits’ (and make them work for you)

You can turn disruptive employees into assets.

When bad behavior’s ignored, it doesn’t go away. A problem with a challenging employee can take its toll on you – and drag down your team.

These people “rob you and the team of time and energy,” says Marsha Petrie Sue, an executive coach who’d known as “the Muhammad Ali of communicators,” especially in dealing with difficult people or those who seem to clash with your company culture. This is especially true with the following four misfit employees in the workplace. But communication and leadership experts offer suggestions for managers to help your misfits fit in:

The Know-It-All

Do you have someone who thinks of themselves as indispensable? You know, the rules just don’t apply to them. Their untouchable attitude will lower morale unless the manager addresses this off-putting behavior.

Here’s how to get them to dial back that bad behavior:

Revisit their job description. Have a meeting to refocus on the soft skills they need to do their job (collaboration, inclusiveness, communication, etc.), says Sue. Ask “What should the consequences be if not achieved?”

Check their perception vs. reality. “Many egotistical workers often do not realize the impact they may have on others,” says Joe Weinlick, Nexxt.com. “You must be willing to honestly communicate with that employee that is causing problems for the rest of the [team].”

Get detailed. “Be specific in your descriptions of which behaviors and actions must stop,” says leadership coach Lolly Daskal, “and let him know you will be monitoring his behavior.”

Give them more work. Channel their talents into appropriate outlets, says Weinlick. Egotists are typically bright people who want to be challenged. Offer them a leadership role on certain projects to help cultivate their talents.

The Absentee

This employee is constantly tardy or frequently out sick, becoming a drain on you – and the team, says Sue. It’s time for a punctuality pow-wow:

Call them out. “Don’t assume they know that they’ve made a mistake,” says Grace Phillips, GetTimely.com. Say firmly but non-confrontationally: “You were 10 minutes late today, and you’ve been late every day this week.”

Discuss the impact. Review how the constant absences/tardiness affects co-workers, production, morale, etc. And do they realize termination can result from continued tardiness?

The Bad Fit

You may have a fantastic person on your team but they’re a mismatch for the job responsibilities. Here’s how to address the skills gap:

Get their input. “Ask them how they feel about whether their skills line up with the job responsibilities,” says Sue. “Communicate your concerns … and ask questions.”

Tell them to complete a time log for 5 days. “This will be to determine where their skills are best matched,” says Sue. “They may not know how to do the job. Listen carefully.”

Discuss options. Jointly determine the blind spots, then decide whether it’s best to retrain or relocate your employee, says Sue. Ask: Is there a job that’s better suited for them? Can their skills transition to another department? Would they be happier elsewhere?

The Slacker

Do you have an employee who spends too much time on social media, making personal calls, playing games or just generally wasting time? Some slackers never developed a strong work ethic, others often use the excuse that they didn’t know their responsibilities. Here’s how to find out:

Stay connected. Poor communication is often at the root of the problem, said Chris Lam, assistant professor of technical communication, University of North Texas. Tailor the communication method to the task at hand. That might mean using email “for communications that require rich detail but don’t require immediate feedback” and avoiding chat when communicating complex information. Keeping work responsibilities well documented makes it harder for slackers to find an excuse.

Set mini goals. “Often what they need is more structure,” says Tim Eisenhauer, co-founder of Axero Solutions. Work with slackers to develop “bite-sized” goals that will keep the employee focused.

Push their boundaries. Some people appear to slack off because they’re bored. Eisenhauer suggests urging them to do something outside their comfort zone. “Disrupt their automatic way of thinking,” he suggests. You may discover that your slacker isn’t so lazy after all.

Dealing with any type of challenging employee is never fun, but it cannot go unchecked. A timely approach to navigating these sticky situations can help you turn troublesome employees into top team players.