Describe How You Managed a Problem Employee

How to Answer Interview Questions About Challenging Employees

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If you're a candidate applying for a supervisor position and you're asked to describe how you managed a problem employee, you'll need to demonstrate that you are able to manage all types of people. Anyone can manage a self-motivated, successful employee, but managers who bring out the best in marginal performers are highly valued for their ability to create more productivity for their company.

Best Answers

Prepare for this type of question by reflecting on some of your most challenging subordinates.

Take the time to write your thoughts on paper. Identify two or three cases in which you dealt with a problem employee. Think about how your intervention brought about positive change. For example, maybe your criticism or advice resulted in an improved attitude or increased productivity.

It's also important to be mindful that employers will be looking for managers who have the tact, patience, and perseverance to deal with chronically underperforming staff members who resist change. Although many employees are eager to receive constructive criticism and motivated to improve their performance, others do not welcome advice and take personal offense when a superior intervenes. 

Be Specific

The important thing is to be very specific when dealing with problem employees. For example, you can note in your interview that employee Jane Doe consistently was late competing tasks, which slowed down the entire department.

Explain that you spoke to Jane in private, providing her with a warning, including a deadline for improvement. When you saw no improvement, you spoke to Jane again and let her know you would be reporting her to human resources and you gave her another deadline for improvement. This was Jane's last and final deadline.

Happily, Jane mended her ways and after a three week period, Jane was completing her tasks in a more timely fashion. Not only was the problem solved, but Jane's increased productivity helped the department complete projects ahead of schedule

Discuss Improvement Plans

If you have any past experience with difficult employees who did not respond positively to your suggestions, describe how you outlined a reasonable plan for improvement, and then share how you dealt with their continued non-compliance. Typically, this involves collaborating with human resources and establishing a performance plan with a series of warnings if the employee does not improve. Remember, not everyone is adaptable to change.

Best Case Scenario

In some cases, you might relate stories where you coached employees towards a shift to a job more suitable to their background, skill set, or personality. Managers who employ this strategy can often save their company from the financially and administratively taxing process involved with a firing. It's not your job to be a psychologist but as a manager, you are in the position of having to deal with different personalities. If you are able to address the problem head-on and take action that demonstrates change you will be respected for your choice not to sweep it under the table.

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