How do you handle high-maintenance employees?

Lara Doyle by
18th April 2013

We all have at least one of them – a high-maintenance employee who performs well, but is difficult to manage. So how does one go about handling them?

Welcome to our weekly Customer Service Clinic where the community will try to help you solve your problems!

One of our readers, Janine, has put the following to us and she would love your feedback:

“We have a member of staff who consistently over-achieves on his targets and brings in great business. Sounds amazing, right? Well, it would be, except that Simon is exceptionally high-maintenance, and our team leaders are at a loss as how to manage him.

Because Simon is so driven and finds it easy to achieve his targets he often finds it difficult to concentrate on tasks for long periods of time, and goes about disrupting his colleagues. He demands a lot of attention from his colleagues and managers and yet he is unwilling to be a team player.

We have tried upping Simon’s targets but this has only served to demotivate him and we are unwilling to give him any managerial responsibilities until he has matured emotionally.

We don’t want to lose him as a member of staff, but we are at a complete loss as to how we should manage his growth and development in our contact centre. Does anyone have any suggestions?”

What do you think Janine should do?

Do you think this is a matter of incentives, coaching or engagement? And at what point will Simon’s attitude start to become a burden on his team?

Help Janine out by leaving your suggestions in the comments below and we will reward the answer that Janine likes best with a £25 Amazon gift voucher.

How do you handle high-maintenance employees?
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  • Graham Frost
    Graham Frost says

    It might also be worth giving this team member a good listening to. What are his ambitions? What does he enjoy about the job? How could you support him better?

  • Chalky Langley
    Chalky Langley says

    Absolute key to this is a strong line manager with an appropriate performance management process. I recommend using three areas for the PR process – Objectives-Capability-Behaviour. This will facilitate a ‘grown-up’ conversation with the individual, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses allowing the LM an opportunity to address these. If this is unsuccessful then I’m sorry but we would really need to think about letting this individual move on as your focus should always be on developing those receptive to it….allowing you team to flourish collectively.

  • Help him find an energy drainer outside of work, i.e., enroll to a football team or painting class/get him married/etc.

  • Wow, there is some really great advice here! It seems that central to the discussion is setting up a behavioral framework within which to access whether the employee’s actions need to be addressed. Another option is to set this employee up as someone who his colleagues should be emulating. Perhaps some kind of mentoring programme would be useful here while a behavioral framework is put in place.

  • In my experience the only thing that changes this type of employee’s work ethics is a change in life-style. At the moment he is thinking purely about himself and the money he can make. Reviews/Competencies/HR involvement will make no difference to his behaviour whatsoever. He needs a strong manager to keep him motivated/reigned in as best you can or be totally honest with him and tell him how his behaviour is disrupting the department.

    Simon is contributing greatly to the company, he just needs to understand this and realise where he could go from here.

  • This is a common situation and there is a direction of travel recommended but you need to ensure higher management are aware of the direction you can take so that they are able to provide the support and backing you will need.

    Firstly you have to accept that a high maintenance employee, no matter how good they are, is having a detrimental effect on other employees and accept that without this individual you may actually get better work from the rest of the team. Also accept that your time servicing this employee also results in further loss (time/cost) of the organisation.

    Now the employee is no longer essential to the organisation, through an appraisal/review process get to understand any issues the employee has, where they would like to be and make it clear to them what is expected of them to reach those goals. Also make it clear to them that the behaviour currently exhibited is not accepted (get help from HR if you can in the review) and come to an agreed plan that will be reviewed in 3 and six months that may also give them more responsibilities (as you state they are good).

    Once this is in place, monitor, document everything that causes concern or is a positive change. This is important. At the reviews (make sure you have them on time), if positive then it is great and you have a better employee. If not, then also great because you have the foundation to state that the services of the employee are no longer required.

    Hope this helps.

  • I agree that behavioural competencies are the way forward. Having a framework that covers, for example, Communication, Team Working/Building Relationships, Leading and Managing Change, whatever is relevant to your business, you can build a culture that permeates through the entire team. When linked to objectives this is a powerful tool: it gives a clear message that achieving objectives alone is not enough if you haven’t behaved appropriately in doing so. If the team are new to this, it’s helpful to discuss with them what “good”, “excellent”, “unacceptable” look like for their own role, so that they understand what this means on a day to day basis. Once you have this in place, it is then easy to have a review meeting and identify clearly to someone if they aren’t meeting the required behaviours. You may also decide that certain behaviours (or lack of them) will automatically mean they are an “unacceptable” performer whether they have achieved targets or not – you can weight them with the amount of importance relevant to your own business culture. Documenting progress in their review documents will then seal the deal, so that you have strong evidence for a rating/appraisal/reward scheme, or conversely, if you feel you need to take any disciplinary action.

  • Graemec1981
    Graemec1981 says

    Does your organisation have Behaviours set out for all employees to deliver & be measured against, working in tandem with their objectives?

    If so, then you could consider an honest conversation with the individual linked to these behaviours and the impacts of their actions, as well as being clear aout what is and isn’t acceptable.

    Some steps that have taken place in my business area have been the introduction of 5 step (positive), and 6 step (developmental) feedback highlighting the positive / negative behaviours and the impacts of their actions.

    Does he have a strucured development plan? If so, how close is he to tracking to his development?

    What motivates him? What are his skills? Can you use those skills to enhance the overall performance of your team? Can you set him a stretching objective – not stats related per say – but something that will meet developmental needs, engage and keep him engaged, but provide the much needed breathing space for you and the rest of the team?

    Just some thoughts!


  • Janine, I sympathise, this situation is always challenging. In my view, a good member of the team should be defined not just by what they achieve but how they achieve it. If you would like others to aspire to the same level as Simon’s performance, you need to develop him into a role model and that means tackling the behavioural issues.

    I would have a very honest, adult conversation with him, exploring what it is he wants from his job/career and point out how, with his current behaviour, he is creating his own obstacles to achieving this. Paint the picture of where he could be but place the responsibility of achieving this firmly on his shoulders. Good luck.

  • How does Simon react to praise? If you were to either up that, or take it away completely, would that affect his performance in any way?

  • Janine – I wonder if this is an issue with your single member of staff, or the rest of your staff. If Simon is succeeding so readily, yet everyone else is feeling put upon by him – would the best course of action not be for them to adopt a similar ‘simon-esque’ stance?

    Maybe it’s time the rest of your team upped their expectations of self and started playing the game… he definitely sounds like the 10% you want the rest of the team to be aspiring to

  • Luke, I think the struggle is trying to define where the line is and then what are the appropriate steps. Janine, have you ever tried shifting him across teams so that he is constantly occupied with learning new things?

  • Luke Bilton
    Luke Bilton says

    This is certainly a problem I’ve come across. The issue is at what point does attention seeking behaviour become damaging to the rest of the team.
    There has to be a point where behaviour is flagged as unacceptable, and if that line is crossed then action taken. Everyone draws the line in different places of course, so this needs to be made explicit by the manager.
    Not sure if that gets me the Amazon voucher?!

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