Dr. Bob Wright | September 24, 2015

Mindfulness at Work:
Dealing with Difficult Employees

As leaders, supervisors and employers, we’re often faced with difficult and frustrating employee situations.


We’re also often dependent on our employees to get their work done and bring their skills to the table. Those skills are the very reason they were hired, and yet, sometimes those talents and what we perceive as “unique” skill sets can cause us to overlook or cope with insubordinate behavior for far too long.

First of all, no employee is indispensable. The same rules apply to you, as a supervisor, administrator or manager. We all need to perform to our best level, take ownership of our roles and fully engage with our jobs so we’re getting and giving the most possible. If an employee isn’t giving the effort needed, don’t be afraid to liberate them from the job so they can find a better, more mutually fitting job.

Most of us find there are times when employees take advantage of a situation that may not call for a full-fledged “liberation” from the company. Things like chronic lateness, failure to adhere to policies, or collusion may call for a timeout, a supervisory intervention, and a redirection.

Dealing with Entitlement

There can be a sense of entitlement among the millennial generation (and other groups too, of course) leaning on the false idea a job should be tailored to an employee’s individual needs. You may find yourself stunned when a new, talented member of your team simply feels like they don’t need to show up to work on time or they can leave a meeting because they don’t like what’s being said.

In today’s ever-changing workplace, it can be difficult to hold back your frustration with this kind of lousy attitude. The key is to approach the situation with diplomacy, honesty and without fear. Stop being afraid of offending your employee by requiring they do their job. They can have a voice and an opinion, but that doesn’t make them exempt from meeting the expectations on the table. Even if they don’t like what’s being said, they still need to listen and show up. Remind them the pool is large and no one is so talented they can’t be replaced.

Clear-Cut Job Descriptions & Expectations

Expectations and criteria for success in a position must be clearly laid out in your company policies. Employees should be given regular reviews and feedback. Tell your employees you value them and why, but also let them know they’re expected to meet the requirements of the job. For salaried employees it can mean extra hours, extra tasks and other requests that reasonably fit into the workday requirements. Hourly employees should understand they need to be in attendance during their scheduled times and any violation of the schedule will be addressed.

The most important thing you can do from the beginning is to follow through with your policies. Every time you let little things slide, you’re showing the employee boundaries can be broken and the rules are flexible. If you don’t want to be walked on, head it off before the first step’s even taken.

Inconsistency is the most powerful form of behavioral modification. Each time something happens with no consequence it sends the message it’s “okay to get away with it.” One shocking thing for anyone is a rule that’s suddenly changed or enforced. If you’ve been letting enforcement slack or the handbook has gathered dust, you have your work cut out for you.

Behavior First, Attitude Will Follow

Sometimes the attitude of an employee can be much more frustrating than their behavior. That said, it’s much easier to change and enforce behavior than it is to force someone to have a great attitude. If employees are successful, driven, and feeling accomplished because of positive feedback for their actions and behaviors, the attitude will follow. Redirecting the behavior and outlining expectations sets boundaries and parameters for the employee to work within. It gives them a platform to be successful and we all know when you’re successful your attitude about your job is positive.

If behavior has eroded to where you’ve let things slide too many times or employees have “called your bluff,” you may find you’re engaged in a power play or a standoff. It becomes a hostage situation—the employee knows they can push boundaries again and again, because you’ve allowed it. You end up feeling injured and the employee feels entitled.

Address Problems Immediately

In discussions with the employee, the most important variable is immediacy. Poor attitudes and insubordination spreads through teams and departments like wildfire. When performance issues go unnoticed or get added to a laundry list that’s only addressed once a year in a performance review, it can make employees feel resentful—and rightfully so! You haven’t laid out mistakes as they happened. They may not even know they’re not meeting expectations.

Sit the employee down and give them a present state of affairs. Explain the current state of your relationship with them and their employment. Explain the ideal state. Let the employee know you’re willing to lose them. Explain your expectations and how they must be met as a condition for success. Ask the employee what success looks like for them and how you can help their ideal state. Once both of you have laid your cards on the table, you’ll find it much easier to move forward.

Your vision and your employee’s vision should align or at least meet in the middle. For the best employees, enroll them in solving the problem. The real skill of leadership is to lead an employee to their ideal state and have it align with the ideal state of the company. Find the common goals and go for the win-win situation.


About the Author

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Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.


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