Why You Should Love Pain-in-the-Butt Employees

I get the question all the time… “How can I deal with an employee who is a real pain in the a—-? She’s driving me crazy!”

When I ask why the employee hasn’t been given her walking papers, the boss usually spits out, “Because she’s one of our best producers. She’s too valuable to fire but she makes my life hell and stirs up everybody else!”

I love these kinds of employees and you should, too. Here’s why.

They’ve still got a fire burning in their gut. It’s just a misdirected fire. As a leader it’s a lot easier to re-direct a fire than it is to rekindle cold embers.

I’d much rather have a passionate, pain-in-the-butt employee than one who is a business-as-usual employee or – even worse – an employee that has quit but still comes to work collecting a paycheck.

Re-direct the passion and you’re going to transform the pain-in-the-butt into an outstanding contributor. I’ve done it myself and I’ve seen it done by other leaders countless times.

But here’s the deal. You can’t just keep doing your same old leadership tricks and hoping for a different outcome. You’ve got to drop your attitude and dig beneath your own frustration to discover what is motivating the employee to be difficult. You need to become Sherlock Holmes.

Here are some questions to help your investigation:

1. Is the employee angry about some perceived injustice? (Hint: Bosses tend to expect more out of high performers than they do other employees.)

2. Is the employee bored? (Hint: High performers often feed on change and challenge and love to collect the next trophy.)

3. Is the employee wanting more power and influence in the workplace? (Hint: Money only goes so far in rewarding a high performer. Respect, responsibility and authority – even if it’s coming from the gossip club – often fill the gap between money and meaning.)

4. Is the employee frustrated about some aspect of their job? (Hint: High performers frequently don’t like rules that seem ridiculous or decisions that don’t contribute to results – like time wasting staff meetings or ill-informed strategies.)

5. What have I done to contribute to this problem? (Hint: High performers want to be heard and valued by the folks in charge. If they only get your attention by causing problems, then that’s what they are going to do.)

One last thing. Ditch the hero routine. Don’t try to save a bad apple. It’ll ruin your whole team.

Let’s face it. Occasionally even the best leaders hire a dud or inherit a crazy person. I know because I’ve been in both situations. If your pain-in-the-butt employee is acting unstable or is a real threat to other people or your business, consult with your HR department pronto to determine the safest and quickest way to deal with them. Don’t tackle this challenge by yourself.

But… if you have a pain-in-the-butt, high performing employee, get busy! You’ve got a diamond waiting to be polished. Want to solve the high performance puzzle quicker? Call me. 859-266-2436.