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Nightmare Subordinates (Difficult Employees) and How to Deal with them - Part 1

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

We have all had that one person on our team who has been an absolute nightmare to work with. They slow the team down, never get their part of the work done and generally constitute a nuisance. While some of them may not necessarily be bad people per se, some are real nightmares! And in extreme cases are disrespectful and trouble for their managers.

I have highlighted a few traits of this kind of employee along with a few tips on how to handle them and make them more productive.

No 1 - The "I am better than you" subordinate

These are staff who are of the opinion that you should not be a manager because they consider that you are not sufficiently qualified or experienced. They consider that the managerial position should be theirs instead.

This type of situation could happen when

  • The staff has been in the organization for a long time and has developed an entitlement mentality, they have been the ones "running the show".

  • There is a vacancy and the subordinate had hoped he/she would be promoted to the position only for the management to recruit from outside.

  • The manager is either younger, less qualified or less experienced than the subordinate (and the subordinate found out).

  • Two people were on the same level, and one was promoted to manager and the other was to report to him/her.

  • Management deliberately employed a younger, less qualified, less experienced person than the subordinate in order to frustrate the subordinate out of the system.

What to Do

  1. It's a difficult situation but as the manager you have to put your foot down.

  2. Have a chat with your subordinate, let him/her realize that they may not like the current situation, but they should remember that;

  3. They do not have to like you, but they do have to work with you.

  4. They should not take things personal because at the end of the day it is a job - it is not a permanent situation, you will both leave the company one day, why make enemies?

  5. They may be the manager tomorrow, would they like this kind of negative behaviour from their subordinates?

Finally, let them know that you will not hesitate to take disciplinary action against them if it comes to it - the job comes first.

👉Do you know any other scenarios where this type of situation plays out?

👉Have you ever had a difficult subordinate like this?

👉Have you witnessed a situation where this played out?

👉Have you been the subordinate that has been subjected to a manager less qualified, experienced, or younger than you?

What did you do?

Please share with us in the comments

No 2 - The "Selective Availability Disorder (SAD)" Subordinate

What do these subordinates do?

They are never available to do their REAL work i.e. the work highlighted in their Job descriptions.

  • They always have a genuine excuse not to work

  • There is a problem with the laptop

  • They can't access their email

  • The Wi-Fi is down

  • The mouse is not working

  • Jack didn't submit the schedule on time so they couldn't prepare the summary

  • Major disaster - We are out of paper clips!

  • The cat ate my report!

But they do find time to do the things they like, such as;

  • Be on the end of year party committee

  • Arrange the birthday celebrations for the managing director

  • Go shopping for the end-of-year hampers for clients

  • Be at the forefront to take an international visitor sightseeing

Oh, and yes - they ALWAYS have time to be on social media🤣

What to Do

Such employees need close marking against their job descriptions. Extra activities are fine but not at the expense of core office obligations.

HR may also need to review their activities and place them in a role that they find more interesting and engaging while still meeting company objectives.

Have you seen employees who have SAD - Selective Availability Disorder?

What did you do? How was it handled?

Please share with us in the comments

No 3 - The "I don't feel well" Subordinate

You guessed right; these employees never feel well. They are always "sick", and they are very fast to whip up sympathy and emotions from other staff about their conditions.

From time to time, we do fall sick but not consecutively over a long period or on a daily basis! The sickness should not be back-to-back unless there is a genuine underlying issue.

Watch out for these employees because they never get anything done due to their "sickness", and they also don't allow other people to work because everybody should sympathize with or comfort them.

This type of employee is never well.

I had a colleague like this way back early in my career. I recall that we would play a game while we waited for this person to come in (he always came in late) - "guess the sickness" - and true to call, there was always a new condition each day. I also had a driver who would fall sick every Friday to avoid weekend duty.

Such people give excuses like;

  • I have a migraine, I can't think, my head is pounding

  • I have the flu, cold, cough, catarrh, my nose is running

  • I have gone down with malaria, I feel sick

  • It's typhoid, the doctor said I should take it easy

  • I fell yesterday and sprained my wrist, I can't write/type

  • I slept badly and have a stiff neck

While all the above reasons sound genuine, this kind of employee never gets a doctor's slip, and is usually "sick" only long enough for the manager to redistribute all their work to someone else.

Usually by afternoon they are bubbling and jisting like nothing happened

What to Do

First, observe this employee's behaviour, try to see if there is a pattern of frequent sicknesses.

  • See if they fall sick just before a regular major assignment, if could be an avoidance tactic.

  • Have a one-on-one chat and confirm that there is no genuine underlying disease.

  • If none, and the "sicknesses" continue, when they next complain ask the staff to take the day (and possibly the next) off to take care of their health, and request they get a doctors slip to submit to HR on resumption.

  • Chances are if the sickness is not genuine, they won't want to go to the doctor and they won't want too many sick reports on their file.

  • This will also let them realize that you are onto them

  • Alternatively keep track of the reported sicknesses and the resultant effect on productivity.

  • Call the staff into a one on one and show them the report. Explain that for them to be sick so frequently indicates they may have a severe health issue that you are concerned about, and that you will have to discuss it with HR and recommend they get a physical checkup.

If the staff is not really sick, they will most likely increase their productivity

Have you worked with this kind of employee? Either as a colleague or a subordinate?

What was the effect on the productivity of the team?

How was the situation handled?

Drop your thoughts and comments below


This concludes part 1. Variety is the spice of life, and we need people to bring their differences into the workplace so that collectively we can achieve more, but that should not be to the detriment of the porductivity of the team. The ability to manage all staff and get them to contribute their best possible is the ultimate aim. No one is "bad" in themselves, some people just need to find the right job for their gifts and abilities.

Do share your Nightmare Employee experience with us in the comments

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Written by Lady Shayo Imologome

Business Growth Strategist, Management Consultant, and Keynote Speaker


Image Credits and Sources

Image 1 - Netflix

Image 2 - Freepik created by

Image 3 - Freepik created by DCStudio


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