How to manage challenging behaviour in the workplace

Managing difficult or disruptive behaviour in the workplace can be very stressful and time consuming. It can have a huge impact on team dynamics, productivity and, in the worst case scenario, create long term absence issues for either management, the employee, or both.

Unfortunately it is not unusual that a manager will face a difficult situation with an employee at some time in their career. So what is the best way to tackle this?

Firstly, planning and preparation is key. It is really important to gather all of your evidence and practise what you are going to say before your meeting.

Look at any relevant workplace policies that will help you, discuss the matter with your HR team, if you have one, and see if there is any evidence of file notes or history of other similar cases in their personnel file.  Following informative and up to date Company Policies and Procedures will also ensure you remain legally compliant.

Think about the right setting to hold the meeting. Ideally you would like to meet somewhere free of interruptions, confidential and quiet. This may mean holding the meeting off site.

A consistent approach is also vital. Don’t treat an employee any differently to how you would anyone else. This helps to alleviate claims of victimisation, bullying, discrimination etc. 

It is very important to gain the employees trust on the meeting so that they feel they can confide in you and open up about any underlying issues which may be causing the problem. Listen to what they have to say, allowing them to state their case, and try to leave your emotions at the door. Having a calm, professional approach will work wonders.

If appropriate consider a witness, someone unbiased and trusted, to make notes during your meeting. Notes in the meeting are really important to ensure you have a record to refer back to. Always ask the employee to sign a copy of the notes after the meeting, reflecting that they are a true and accurate account of what was said.  

Behaviours to be aware of when addressing an employee on behavioural issues include:






       Pleas for sympathy

Look out for these traits in words spoken, as well as tone of voice and body language.

When confronted with a shock, surprise or criticism, people tend to follow what is described as a 5 stage “emotional cycle”, this is based on the Kuber- Ross behavioural model. The stages go as follows:

1)      Denial

2)      Anger

3)      Rationalisation

4)      Growth

5)      Acceptance (an employee that recognises what they have done is not appropriate, is an employee that will do well in an organisation. Having the professionalism to grow and develop as an individual is a positive attribute)

There may be some employees that skip stages or never reach the growth and acceptance stage. This will be the time to decide how to formally manage the situation and seek some professional advice.

If things go wrong, emotions begin to run high, or matters that cannot be dealt with in the meeting straightaway, then don’t be afraid to adjourn and pick up the conversation at a later date.

At the end of each meeting always ensure your professional expectations are clear and try to set specific, measurable, attainable and relevant goals. Always agree a time frame to meet again and ensure you place the date and time in your diaries straightaway.

For further information on managing a challenging situation and behaviour in the workplace, please contact or call +44 (0) 7702 864227.  Bespoke courses are also available on request.



Debbie McCordall

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