How to Effectively Manage Difficult Employees: The Grumbler

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A few weeks ago, I introduced you to an employee you may have encountered in your lifetime, called The Rude-Nik. He happily supplies his coworkers with hissy fits and bad moods at will. Before that, we talked about  The Egomaniac. Let’s just say this employee isn’t exactly a “team player.”  Then, there was The AWOL, who at this very moment may be missing from the office despite a team project being due. These are just a few of many personality types that Jezra Kaye and I help managers address with our book, Managing the Unmanageable: How to Motivate Even the Most Unruly Employee.

Today, I’d like to introduce someone equally difficult to manage—The Grumbler. Possibly you’ve even had to dodge a little grumbling today?

It’s hard to cope with The Grumbler in an office environment—or anywhere, really. They complain, complain, and complain until the entire team’s enthusiasm is as good as gone. It’s not just enthusiasm they squash. Good ideas don’t have much of a chance of survival with their constant negative feedback.

Management Tips for Difficult Employees-- The Grumbler

What’s a manager to do with this person? Jezra and I created a tool kit, which we call the “5C’s.” They are easy to remember and just might help with handling The Grumbler.

  1. COMMIT OR QUIT: First, you need to commit or quit. Retention is a serious consideration when looking at the cost of rehire. It can cost two to three times The Grumbler’s salary to search for and hire a replacement. If you want to keep this employee, commit to taking the time to coach and salvage your Unmanageable Employee (UE). You may not like their behavior, but with the following steps, you could greatly improve your working relationship.
  1. COMMUNICATE: To get started on the salvage, you must communicate with The Grumbler. This conversation should not involve grumbling! Having a straightforward conversation with your UE may not sound fun, but it is a very valuable management tool. Employees and managers alike have assumptions about each other. Starting to tackle those assumptions with a frank conversation can go a long way towards building a more cohesive team.Five Tips for Manageming the Unmanageable
  1. CLARIFY GOALS AND ROLES: Take the opportunity while talking to The Grumbler to clarify goals and roles.  Does your employee know what is expected of him or her at work? They may think they do, and they may be totally wrong. Clarify those expectations and set goals for future expectations. Communicating the goals and roles of your employees to them gives them a tool for success.
  1. COACH: Honest and productive conversations give your UE the chance to self-correct.  However, an employee’s attitude greatly influences their performance, their impact on the team, and their receptiveness to being managed. Here’s a solution for attitude adjustment: Coaching. Coach that grumbler. Coaching is an effective way shift a UE’s inner-attitude. Beyond benefiting your relationship with this employee, and the UE’s relationship with the team, it can greatly improve your UE’s career. We all want to have a positive impact on our employees, don’t we? Even The Grumbler has a career path that can be developed.
  1. CREATE ACCOUNTABILITY: The truth is, even with communication, the establishment of goals and roles and coaching, bad habits are hard to break. Habitual attitudes also tend to be very hard codes to crack. Don’t give up. Instead, create accountability with your UE by developing a clear plan of action. In this case, work with The Grumbler to create milestones and action items. An added benefit to this process is the opportunity for you to improve management skills. You are more aware of what should be, and may not be, happening, and can continue to communicate and coach your UE throughout the ongoing, clearly definted, process.

Managers, I want to hear from you! Tell me about your experience with those irritating grumblers. What has worked and not worked for you in managing them? How have they affected your team? Is grumbling contagious? Leave a comment below, send me an email, or tweet me.

There are many more employee types that seem unmanageable. I love to speak about them too! Stay tuned. 

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