How to Deal with Frustrating Employees

woman pulling long hair due to frustrating circumstances

Do you have frustrating employees on your staff? You know, those with some good potential but just can’t seem to level up to what you need them to do?

It’s not a good situation all around. For the company, for you as their boss, or even for them as the employee. All points seem to be heading to termination, which isn’t what you want. Because after all, on the day you hired them, they were perfect. Remember?

The Problem of Defending the Frustration

When you confront the situation, it may be a shock to your employee. Your side of the story is important, but if you over-emphasize its importance, that will only lead to a defensive posture from the employee.

Look out for these defensive postures:

  1. Zero accountability. “Hey, it’s not MY fault…”
  2. Blame game. The problems are caused by other workers, equipment, processes, consumables, or other things.
  3. Ridicule. This may be an attempt at humor, but it often comes across as snarky sarcasm. It can also surface as a condescending attitude.
  4. Force Fields Up! No matter what you say, they aren’t listening.
  5. History. So and so did this same thing three years ago, so it’s ok now.
  6. Fairness as a weapon. Others are doing the same thing. Even though they know it is wrong, this is labeled as the reason it is acceptable.

Frustrating Situations Are Different

As situations for frustrating employees are different across companies and situations, the techniques on how to unravel the situation can work the same way.

The first step is to write down the cause of the frustration for you. Clarity is what you seek here. If this problem was corrected, would your frustration go away? Is there something else that somehow got piled on too? Add that to the list.

Silence Equals Permission

On some occasions, managers keep the frustration they are experiencing quiet. They don’t want to “rock the boat.” However, when an action, attitude, or behavior the employee exhibits is the source of the problem, your silence equals permission to continue with whatever they are doing.

In fact, they may not even realize it is a problem.

You have to bring that out in the open and discuss it. Yes, this could cause drama in the workplace. Emotions could flair. You don’t want that to happen, but avoiding the situation only makes things worse in the long run.

Understand that you could cause some pain when you challenge frustrating or defensive staff members. Proceed anyway. Rip that band-aid off!

Discuss Frustrating Emotions First

Out of the gate, you need to discuss the emotions of the situation first. What are they feeling about the situation? Your goal is to recognize their side of what’s going on first. Remember, they may not understand there is a problem at first. Change can start happening when people feel listened to and understood. Ask questions.

“How does me bringing this up make you feel?”

“What do you need for this to change?”

“How can we help you more?”

By the way, acknowledging their point of view isn’t agreeing with them. The fifth habit of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” from Stephen Covey’s famous book is “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Changing the frustrating behavior or attitude is what you are after here.

Use this Phrase: “Help Me Understand”

If you are trying to confront an employee, one way to get the conversation going is to use the phrase, “Help me understand…” at the beginning of your question.

“Help me understand why you are late every day?”

“Help me understand why you printed the design on the wrong side of the shirt?”

“Help me understand why you thought it was ok to do bong hits in the parking lot during lunch?”

You want to get their thinking out in the open to discuss the situation. “Help me understand…” allows you to broach the subject in a nonaccusatory manner.

Seek Clarity

Everyone should be on the same page. This means you need to get whatever you think out of your head and into theirs.

It’s much better if there are some rules, guidelines, processes, and procedures to refer to for situations. Write things down and make them official. Create videos. Make posters.

Train your staff on what they are supposed to do. A no-brainer thing for you, such as asking off for vacation, might be completely esoteric to a new staff member. They just don’t know the correct way yet.

Here’s How We Do It

Show your staff members the way that it should be handled. The more you stick to the guidelines and rules, the better.

Things are easier when everyone has the same expectations and works the same way.

Got a rebel that won’t fit in? Don’t negotiate. Present the choices to them and let them decide on how to behave. It should fit in and be in alignment with your company’s culture, procedures, and processes.

Self-Examination Time

Lastly, maybe you are frustrated because you have not clearly communicated the end result. That’s right. It could be your fault.

A good practice to have is to ask your staff, “Is there anything I could have done better on this?” Actively listen to them and start self-correcting how you handle things.

If the goal is to defeat frustration and improve things, sometimes that activity lies within us, not others. Be sure to recognize that.

“Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” – Antonio Banderas

“An employee’s motivation is a direct result of the sum interactions with his or her manager.” – Bob Nelson

“If you are only doing what you are getting paid for, and doing no better than the average employee, then your pay is likely right where it should be.” – Bo Bennett

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Marshall Atkinson also shares exclusive blog content at Supacolor makes The World’s Best Heat Transfer and provides tips, inspiration, and other resources designed to empower professional garment printers.

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