How to Manage Difficult Employees in Field Service Teams

How to Manage Difficult Employees in Field Service Teams

For managers of remote field service workers, getting a birds-eye view of what’s happening out in the field is a challenge, so difficult employees can be harder to spot. Commonly though, if there is a difficult person in the team, you’ll soon hear about it from others. One bad apple can sap motivation and pull down the performance of a whole team. That’s why nipping things in the bud is by far the best strategy.

Don’t be tempted to delay or not take action at all and don’t get dragged into an ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ culture where difficult behaviour just gets brushed off as unimportant, because it will lead to far worse problems in the future.

Here’s are a few things you need to be doing:

Know What to Look Out For and Ascertain The Facts

Knowing what to look out for is the first step. Usually, difficult employees stick out like a sore thumb. Here are some of the common traits to look out for:

  • The gossip – poor work rate, spreads rumours and causes factional splits
  • The disengaged employee – no initiative, only works to detailed instructions, leaves work to others, frustrated
  • The procrastinator – always missing deadlines and can run out of time to finish a job properly
  • The ‘excusist’ – always making excuses for not having completed tasks, or missing a deadline
  • The narcissist – high achievers, but don’t recognise others value in the team
  • The workaholic – prone to stress and burnout
  • The complainer – always dissatisfied and moan about everything
  • ‘The Sage’ – think they know everything and have an answer for everything
  • The bully – picks on others (or a single person) in the team

You will usually become aware of difficulties when reports come in from other staff that someone in the team isn’t pulling their weight or is just generally difficult to work with. Don’t wade in at this point without learning the facts.

Managing difficult employees always starts with listening. Get to know the person better and try to find out what makes them tick. You have a much better chance of resolving an issue if you start like this.

Key takeaway: Always ascertain the full facts before taking any action. LISTEN!

two colleagues wearing hi-vis vests and hard hats

Determine The Root Cause

Poor performance or difficult behaviour at work can happen for numerous reasons. It’s important to understand the root cause of someone’s behaviour. Is the person having a difficult time at home? Is a family member unwell? Are they going through a divorce? These are all things that can impact behaviour, and though it doesn’t make disruptive behaviour at work right, it should influence how you deal with it.

Remember, if an employee is having a hard time outside of work, it’s not easy to just switch off feelings when clocking in at the start of the day. Allowing someone to start 30 minutes later so they can drop their kids to school may be all it needs to resolve frustrated behaviour.

Of course, if disruptive behaviour is coming from an out and out narcissist, the course of action you take will be different to that for someone who is struggling to cope because of family logistics.

Always cast your net wide when considering why someone is behaving in a disruptive or difficult manner. It could be for many different reasons, such as not enough challenges or career opportunities, or not getting enough support from colleagues.

Key takeaway: Understand the why – don’t write someone off before you know the facts.

Start With The Right Tools

One of the first things to slip when someone is stressed or experiencing personal problems is performance at work. Using field service management software, it is far easier to track productivity and stay in touch with engineers.

Workforce management software (WFM) offers an integrated HR solution that combines staff scheduling, time management and reporting functions into a central system.

Also vital is building a culture of openness and trust. WFM software enables managers to improve employee engagement, so any problems can be more easily spotted and nipped in the bud.

Key takeaway: It’s essential to have the right tools to manage your team.

Laptop showing Joblolgic's staff management software

Tips for Managing Difficult Employees

  1. Don’t make assumptions
  2. Engage with the employee
  3. Communicate clearly and give honest feedback
  4. Reinforce company expectations
  5. Stay calm
  6. Be respectful – do your best to understand why an employee is behaving in a certain way
  7. Be fair – there may be legitimate reasons for a person’s behaviour
  8. Be patient
  9. Be sensitive – usually poor behaviour signifies a cry for help
  10. Be clear on what happens next and what your expectations are moving forward
  11. Be consistent
  12. Keep a record of how you dealt with the problem

Also, be clear about the official company procedures for managing difficult employees and disruptive behaviours.

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore a Problem Employee and Do Nothing

With so much on a managers plate these days, it’s easy to see why there could be a temptation to do nothing about a problem employee. It could, after all take up a lot of your time. But let’s consider why inaction is a terrible mistake.

Firstly, doing nothing sends a message to other employees that you are weak. Poor management is the main reason people leave jobs. So, if you’re not dealing with difficult employees, you could have a staff retention problem on your hands.

Difficult employees not only create a toxic environment for staff, but they also don’t leave a good impression on customers. So, not dealing with difficult employees could also lose you business!

We live in litigious times, so getting rid of problem employees without following the correct disciplinary procedures under employment law isn’t advisable.

Equally, don’t ignore issues and let the rot set in – small issues can fester. Remember, a manager’s behaviour and the culture they create in their team is the biggest influence on an employee’s work experience and productivity. Many workplace problems can be resolved informally by a quiet chat.

Read more about how to get the most out of your team and how to be a successful manager using the 80/20 rule.

Want to see how field service management software can help you? Get in touch to book a free demo now.

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