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Dealing with Challenges to Employee Engagement

Dealing with
Challenges to

Blog Post

Don’t let difficult employees steal your work joy


Mark Keeton, Vice President
Solution Management

We’ve all been there. You’re at work, fired up about a new project and ready to brainstorm ideas. Let’s take a peek at the brainstorming session:

You: I’m so excited about this project! I think we’re going to have a lot of fun working on it.Teammate: Oh please. This project is just a rehash of that project we did for this client four years ago; it didn’t go anywhere then and it won’t go anywhere now.You: I think it’s different. Look over these ideas I’ve sketched out. Teammate: None of those are going to work. We’ve tried them all. Idea 1 failed miserably when we worked on it before. We couldn’t get Idea 2 off the ground. And, Idea 3? Leadership wanted nothing to do with it.

You: But … but …

How deflating can an experience be? When you’re trying to boost morale, invigorate your culture and shake loose of negativity, it’s downright upsetting to be surrounded by this kind of frustrating employee.

According to Gallup, actively disengaged employees make up about 17 percent of the workforce.

These disruptors are toxic. They are the people who always have a bad word to say, find fault with everything that’s not their idea and make you feel generally crummy about going to work.

What’s a company to do? Firing isn’t always the best solution and can be extremely time-consuming and risky. Instead, consider these tips for keeping the disruptors from disrupting your company culture.

  • Interview for fit in addition to skills. The best way to avoid toxic employees is to keep them out of the workplace to begin with.
  • Talk to problem employees. Is there something happening in their personal life that is making them more negative or difficult to work with? Maybe something happened at work that caught them off guard, or they may be bored or burned out. Never assume you know what’s happening with your employees without asking directly.
  • Learn their strengths and manage toward those rather than focusing on negative traits. If they are having trouble in their work, that could be contributing to their general negativity.
  • Give challenging employees direct feedback about how their tone or behavior impacts others.
  • Don’t talk about the problem with other employees.
  • Support other team members while respecting the disruptor’s privacy.
  • Document issues with the team member in case you have to pursue a more formal approach for discipline.
  • Don’t let dealing with the challenging employee become all-encompassing and allow it to derail your work. You have plenty of other responsibilities to think about. If other team members are disrupting your work with complaints, set aside a block of time to discuss their concerns.
  • Engagement begins at the top. Don’t rely on or blame mid-level managers if their teams aren’t as enthusiastic as you expect or hope they will be. Everyone plays a role in improving company culture, starting with your leadership or management team.

Regardless of what’s happening with your employees, it’s critical to address issues they create before their behavior spreads like a cancer to the rest of your team — or worse — to your entire organization.


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