How To Mentor a Problem Employee

Fortunately for management, problem employees are not the norm. Applicants will always put their best foot forward to get accepted for the job and typically will continue to do a good job in the future. Occasionally, however, a newly-hired employee is not as they seemed to be in an interview. At that point, management needs to step-up and attempt to work with the employee through open communication, mentoring, and continuing to offer constructive criticism.

As a manager, you can sometimes excuse a person for lapses and small misdemeanors. Part of management is understanding that people have commitments outside of their job and help employees find a balance between home and work so the work product is not affected. However, when infractions become habitual then you have a problem employee and need to take the proper steps to intervene.

Firing an employee for initial problems is not in anyone's best interest, namely your company, as it then reopens the hiring process and takes more of your time and the time of your human resource staff.  You may find the "problem employee" is not a problem at all, but is having a difficult time with learning the new job information and after providing some mentoring, that same employee could end up as your star employee. The key is to offer some help so they can improve, be very watchful on their progress or lack of, and keep accurate documents.

Here are some signs that your newly-hired employee needs mentoring:

  • The employee is habitually tardy. You can excuse employees for being late occasionally. There are a thousand and one valid reasons to be late to work, but habitual tardiness should not be tolerated as a daily habit, especially for new employees. Continual tardiness is a sign of being unprofessional. If you have to report at exactly 9 am, the employee should be in at 9 am so that business can commence at exactly 9 am. Lost time is lost money for the company. If the employee shows signs of improvement, you can just let it pass, but emphasize the importance of timeliness. If the employee does not even try to be on time, then you need to talk with the employee and find out why this is happening so often. It could be as simple as the employee having transportation problems and the employee will have the problem resolved in the near future.  Understanding why the employee is late is important.  Be proactive to work through this difficulty if you feel you have an employee with potential. Of course, after talking with/mentoring the employee, you are still noticing tardiness, you will have to reprimand him and tell him that further offenses could cost his job.
  • The employee has a negative attitude. Negative attitudes can be contagious and could further affect your staff. A negative employee tends to find fault with numerous people and company events. This is a difficult area to mentor as it normally is not a single offense, but rather a personality trait. This is a situation where, as a manager, you will need to remain aware so the employee doesn't have the opportunity to affect the staff as a whole. The most important part of mentoring a negative attitude is keeping factual records and not hearsay; most often the information is found through gossip and the manager must be mindful not to use gossip as facts to mentor an employee.
  • The employee is too aggressive. Usually, these employees are not new, but have stayed long in the company and are not promoted due to attitude problems as well. They do well in their own work, but they cannot work well with others. They use their seniority as an excuse to act as a boss. Sometimes, they even feel superior to their boss and think they can do whatever they want and walk away unblemished. This is when management typically steps in to assist. This type of employee is going to need several sessions of mentoring before they will see that their aggressiveness is providing unneeded stress to other employees.  When mentoring, be able to provide specific examples of times you, or someone in a parallel or superior position to you, have witnessed this aggressiveness first hand. 

Try to be diplomatic, but firm, when dealing with employees. They need to understand that you are in a supervisory role as respect you in that role.  On the other hand, you must also exercise your people skills and remember that you were once in their shoes and may have had similar problems.  Sometimes, just feeling like someone is willing to take the time to sincerely mentor them is all it takes.


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