Addressing a difficult situation doesn't have to be uncomfortable.

Your Guide to Handling Difficult Employee Conversations

Problem employees can arise in your workplace. Whether they are taking long repeated lunches, treating colleagues poorly, or just acting in an unprofessional way, their actions can impact on the overall workplace so it is important to curb that behaviour. Whatever your situation, the following formula works to address all those sticky issues where you expect resistance, in the most professional and constructive way possible.

The DESC Model

Describe the facts of the situation as objectively as possible. 

Explain why the situation is a problem (i.e. the impact on the workplace) – use “I” statements to limit putting the person on the defensive with generalisations. For example, “I have noticed you are frequently engaged in personal phone calls and I am concerned that this affects your productivity”, rather than “you are always on the phone and not working”.

Specify what outcome or behaviour you would prefer to see – how the situation or behaviour has to change.

Consequences, outline what the end effects will be if the behaviour or situation is changed, or not changed.

Here is an example of an employee who continues to take unplanned leave at convenient times: “I am concerned you are often absent on Monday, or particularly, days after long weekends. This affects the planning of our staff rotation and puts pressure on other members of our staff to pick up your slack, and has created some tension in the workplace. I’d like you to let me know if there is a particular reason for your absences. If the pattern continues, I will be requesting medical certificates for these absences.”


This particular strategy provides a number of benefits, namely it:

  • De-personalises the issue.
  • Forces you to prepare for the discussion.
  • Makes clear what outcomes you require.

While it still may be confronting for employees (and no doubt uncomfortable for you as their manager too), they at least don’t have to wonder where this is heading or think of the issue as simply others ‘not liking’ them. You’ve explained its relevance to the workplace and what you consider is needed to solve the issue.  

It may feel obvious to some managers that simply mentioning the issue is ‘enough said’ – but employees are all individuals and we wouldn’t all behave so differently if we all thought the same way.  

Furthermore, addressing an issue in a way that is less than clear may potentially be perceived – or portrayed – as bullying or harassment.   It goes without saying that having these crucial conversations in a timely way prevents workplace conflict and issues from escalating into something which may indeed be harder to manage. So go on and have the conversation – it’s crucial!

Need more assistance?

Through working with employers managing difficult employees, we understand how difficult it can be to sit down and have these conversations. For some employers, their time is too valuable to spend managing these types of issues. ER Strategies has assisted many employers in dealing with similar situations and we would love to help you too, just give us a call on 1300 55 66 37, or click here to contact us. 

Free Download: Termination Letter Template

Need to let an employee go? Use our letter of termination template to ensure you are using the correct format. 

termination letter template