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How to transform difficult employees into team players

Your team may have the best resumes in town, but if their personalities clash, trouble awaits.
By Andre Lavoie |


You spend countless hours recruiting the perfect team. You train them and give them the tools they will need to be a successful workforce. You have your excellent customer service expert, Sherry, your human resource genius, Mike, and Bill and Brenda, your sales dynamic duo. Then there is Karen, the best marketer you have ever hired. Unfortunately, nobody can stand to work with her.



As a manager, you cannot ignore the impact of your employees’ relationships with each other. In the 2014 report by TINYPulse, 20% of over 200,000 employees surveyed ranked their peers as the no. 1 reason to excel at work. Camaraderie with peers was the number-one motivator found in the survey. By fostering better co-worker relations, you can create a more productive and higher performing company.


Related: Managing the unmanageable: The 6 most common types of difficult employees


However, creating a strong team is not easy—no matter how strong your employees’ skills are, personalities clash. It is your job to find a way to manage your employees, even the difficult ones. Here are three types of employees that are hard to work with and how to turn them into team players:



1. The suck-up

Every office has one: that one employee whose only goal is impressing and garnering praise from the boss. They bring the boss coffee and offer to pick up his dry cleaning. Basically, they are willing to do anything for a “good job,” except their actual job.



Co-workers of the suck-up are often annoyed, because they feel he is getting positive attention based on something other than the merit of his work. The rest of the team wants all the time and energy spent on flattering the boss to be diverted to getting quality work done.


As a manager, you have to show an apple-polisher that your recognition is not the most important type of acknowledgment. Take a look at your employee recognition program. Whose input affects the achievements that are most celebrated? Incorporate a peer-to-peer recognition program as a way to encourage suck-ups to consider the approval of their co-workers as well. Soon they will begin to realize that doing a good job and contributing to the team is appreciated by everyone, and that their peers’ praise can be as rewarding as yours.


Related: How to work with a narcissist



2. The gossip

Not all forms of gossip are detrimental to a group. 2014 research from Stanford University found that groups that participated in gossip cooperated better due to higher levels of accountability. But when you have an employee that spends half of the day whispering about everyone’s weekend plans, you have got a problem.



Everyone is guilty of gossiping now and again, but “the office gossip” distracts the rest of her co-workers by constantly talking about others’ personal lives. Spreading rumors or deeply personal pieces of information can create tensions within a team.


The key to managing these types of employees is to redirect their social tendencies. Talkative people are social butterflies at heart. Give them projects that are geared toward creating interactions, like planning company retreats or holiday parties. These tasks will keep them busy—and keep them from distracting co-workers with unprofessional chatter. During these events, they will have an appropriate time to talk about non-business related topics and will be rewarded by seeing how their productive efforts have brought the team closer.



3. The underachiever

Sometimes you hire an employee that has a stellar resume and all the right experience, only to see him repeatedly perform below his potential. You were counting on him to act as an example for the rest of the team, but he just does the bare minimum on every task or project he is responsible for every day.



Instead of being inspired by this anticipated high performer, other team members also begin to do less. Those employees that continue to go the extra mile resent the underachiever for having to pick up the slack.


If you are confident that an employee has more to give, there is a disconnect between you somewhere. Perhaps the actual day-to-day job he is doing is not what he expected it would be, or maybe he is just bored. Talk to the underachiever to find out what he likes and what he does not like about his job. Find out if he needs more challenging work to motivate him, or if he feels he is not being given the opportunity to use his strongest skills. This will allow you to redefine his position so he can flourish like you always knew he could.


What other types of employees are difficult to deal with, and what is the best way to manage them?





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This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been done by the editors.


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