How to Deal With a Problem Employee: a Step-By-Step Script For Addressing Performance and Conduct Is

When an employee begins showing signs of performance decline or misconduct, they typically fall in one of two categories: an employee with a problem or a problem employee.

The former is usually short-term brought on by a temporary stressor such as death in family, marriage, divorce, new baby, health problems or resentment over a management decision.

The latter is usually a repeat offender who consistently acts in ways that provoke conflict, cause drama and suck up your time and energy.

Don’t take either category personally, but do take control of the situation.

It’s important to deal with performance or misconduct issues before they become BIG. You want to be an authoritative leader who holds staff accountable, provides effective oversight and helps your employees grow.

"Leadership involves some icky stuff."

There’s a perception that leadership is glamorous and powerful. But the reality is, leadership involves some icky stuff. That icky stuff includes dealing with misconduct and performance issues even when you don’t want to. Keep in mind that your staff aren’t supposed to LOVE you – you’re supposed to lead them!

To prevent inappropriate behavior and mediocre performers from becoming the new normal, you must address matters quickly and intentionally.

An effective feedback strategy should be timely, devoid of subjective, general attributes and focused on problem-solving and action.

So whatever resistance you may have, you’ll need to overcome it. Here is a simple and easy feedback technique that confident, take-control leaders use for first-time or chronic offenders. It’s called SBI-R or Situation-Behavior-Impact Request.

Address your employee’s issue in four simple steps

The Situation-Behavior-Impact-Request technique (SBI-R) helps you focus on the problem or behavior and not the person. Following this simple step-by-step script will allow you to be confident and factual instead of emotional. Being prepared with a script can keep emotions and defensiveness from taking over.

Here it is, explained simply. I’ve used an employee caught sleeping during a meeting (oh yes, it happens!) as an example.

Step 1: Outline the situation

During yesterday’s team meeting, your head was down then it hit the table.

Step 2: Describe the behavior

You were sleeping during the team meeting and on company time.

Step 3: Help them see the broader impact

Sleeping during meetings gives me and the team members the impression that you aren’t engaged with us or the subject matter. This unacceptable conduct could affect the morale of other staff who are prepared and alert.

Step 4: Make a clear request

While at work and in meetings, we expect you to be engaged and productive. If you find that there’s a reason that you can’t be, I recommend you take advantage of employee benefits such as requesting leave from work or speaking with a counselor at the Employee Assistance Center. In addition to being paid to work, there’s a lot to get done and tight deadlines to meet. Sleeping on the job isn’t fair to you or the team and may be considered a neglect of duty. I want you to be successful.

Click here to get a free SBR Worksheet and work through these steps yourself.

Close the conversation with grace, and follow up

Feel free to end with a question, such as, “Do you have any questions for me regarding this matter or is there anything I can do to help you?” It’s also a good idea to anticipate what the person might say and have responses prepared so you aren’t caught off-guard. Again, stay focused on the issue at hand.

In any situation, this technique will help you resolve the issue quickly and effectively, and avoid coming across as emotional or scattered. It focuses your discussion on the specific situation and behavior, and then outlines the impact that these behaviors have on you, others and the company. Finally the request is what you expect moving forward.

Be sure to follow up the conversation with an email. Documentation is king. And will be necessary if the behavior continues and more formal discipline is needed.

Clear communication leads to confident leadership

Does the thought of having these tough conversations make you not want to be a leader anymore? Hey! I’ve been there and felt that too. I’ve talked dozens of leaders off the ledge and back to feeling in-control.

If you have a situation and not sure how to handle it, let’s chat about it. I haven’t met a problem that’s not solvable.


Fay Ferguson is a dynamic energetic leadership consultant and executive coach with 20+ years experience in personal and leadership development, employee relations and human resources. She helps leaders prevent, manage and resolve conflict, so they can have more peace and less stress and drama in the workplace. She is passionate about developing confident take-control leaders.

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