Handling Difficult Employee Situations

Some business buyers have said they want a business with no employees, because employees are always a problem.  That’s a good example of the fact that there are always problems, but the key is how you handle them.  Employees are necessary for most businesses and the good ones can make you look good.  Even the best employees sometimes have problems, and working together to solve the problems can make a business stronger.  An employee complaint should be put in perspective.  You are likely to immediately presume that a complaint is something negative, but it is also something positive.  It is an opportunity to correct a problem and an opportunity to put your best foot forward.  Studies have shown that a very small percentage of people complain to businesses if they are dissatisfied; they just don’t go back to that business.  Of course, most of the complaints are because they are unhappy about the way they were treated or ignored by an employee; but they think of the employee as the business.  Although they don’t complain to businesses, they like to tell everyone they see about how terrible the business is.  That can really hurt a business very quickly.

Business owners can develop a personal style of dealing with problems.  You need a desire to make things better and an alertness to see situations objectively as you are finding solutions.  Seeking creative solutions and thoughtfulness to reach logical conclusions is a desire you have and will develop more over time.  You will see the entire problem and an application to give time and energy the solution requires.  You need patience and optimism as you deal with any problems that arise, including problems or complaints and difficult employees.

Good communication is necessary in all businesses and can help to offset any problems.  Remember that communication is what the employees understand and not necessarily what you are saying to them.  It includes words and body language.  Listening skills are also part of communication and can be developed by taking mental notes and concentrating with an open, attentive mind.   

Six keys to help you handle complaints and difficult employee situations include:

  1. Schedule a meeting with the employee to discuss the situation.  Smile a warm, sincere hello and listen carefully and with interest.  Initiate a discussion that acknowledges there is a problem, and accept the problem as an opportunity to improve a situation.
  2. Empathize by putting yourself in the employee’s place and anticipating the employee’s complaint.  Head it off with a sincere, genuine, specific, and timely concerned comment.
  3. Ask direct questions that require the employee to talk about the situation.  Listen carefully to the answers with your undivided attention.  This is a good way to confirm you understand what you are hearing.
  4. Repeat back to the employee your understanding of the problem and brainstorm together one or more possible solutions to answer his or her concerns.
  5. Apologize, without blaming, for the employee’s situation and empathize with him or her for the problem.
  6. Solve the problem promptly by asking for an action step to help the employee make the best decision that resolves the problem.

After looking at ways to handle complaints, it is also important to look at things to avoid.  
First, don’t directly challenge the employee.  Even if he or she is wrong and you are right, don’t attempt to prove it.  The goal is to solve the problem, not debate the “whose fault” issue with the employee.  Second, don’t let the conversation wander off the specific problem.  The goal is to solve the problem, not find more of them.  Third, don’t participate in fault finding.  It doesn’t help anyone to shift the blame to another person.  Finally, don’t let your personal feelings get in the way.  Remain cool and collected and use courtesy and tact.


  • Author: Pat Jones
  • Title: President/Owner - Business Broker
  • Company: Pat Jones Business Brokers
  • Company Website: http://www.patjones.biz/
  • Date: June 14, 2018
  • Category: Tips for Existing Business Owners