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Are You a Difficult Employee? The Real Reasons and What to Do Next

difficult employee

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

by Andrea M. Darcy

It’s easy to find advice about how to deal with difficult people at work. But what if it’s you who is the difficult employee? And you can’t seem to stop being that person? 

Why does it matter if I am a difficult employee?

Even with changes to the workplace since the pandemic, many of us spend more time interacting with colleagues than with friends and family.

Meaning difficult work relationships can bring a lot of stress to our lives. Joking about being a bad employee can be a way to hide that we feel anxious and alone. We might secretly worry about the future of our career, or wonder if there is something wrong with us.

A Swedish study with over 4,000 participants directly connected low social support at work, serious conflict at work, and exclusion by superiors or by co-workers to employee depression. 

Are you stuck in a pattern?

And sometimes work issues, if they are in all honesty an ongoing problem for us, across more than one job, aren’t just about work. 

Work issues can often be a reflection of personal issues we’ve had for a long time. By taking our workplace problems seriously, we can often end up changing our life in general, not just our career.

What makes me a difficult coworker?

Not sure why people see you as difficult to work with? It’s worth asking yourself these questions, or even journalling about them. Be honest in your replies. 

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  • Am I happy in my job? What sort of mood do I turn up in? Is that affecting others? 
  • Do I do my best, or am I always half hearted? What is that really about? 
  • What do I see as the positives and the negatives of this job? How do these beliefs affect how I behave at work?
  • Do I feel equal to my colleagues? Or secretly more deserving? Or less? How might that affect how they perceive me? Or how I behave? 
  • When others talk do I fully listen? Do I actually try to see their perspective? 
  • Am I good at communicating? Do I clearly state my ideas and ideas?
  • Do I feel listened to and understood? How do I react if I don’t feel these things?
  • Do I understand the social rules of the workplace?
  • If something goes wrong do I take responsibility for my part?
  • What other behaviours could I be participating in that are perhaps perceived as negative, even if I don’t mean them to be?

But I really am doing my best

difficult employee

photo by Nicola Barts at Pexels

Not everyone is cut out for every team. Sometimes we’ve simply fallen into a situation where our personality isn’t a fit and we need to switch teams or jobs.

And sometimes it’s simply because, through no fault of our own, we aren’t great at relating. We struggle to understand social norms, have a personality that is very different to that of others, or can’t keep things impersonal and overreact to everything.

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Mental health issues that can lead to workplace conflict

And all of these issues above can be directly related to diagnosable conditions or mental health issues.

Struggle to understand social norms?

Autism spectrum disorder means that your brain won’t easily understand the social rules others seem to naturally just ‘get’. You might, for example, not realise when to stop talking about something, or when you are boring other people. And things like eye contact or people standing too close to you might leave you uncomfortable.

Or sometimes it’s a personality disorder that is the issue. A personality disorder means your brain simply doesn’t see the world in the same way others do. You are seen as a difficult employee but you actually can’t understand the way others think and act. 

Talk too much, do things without thinking, distract others, forget to finish things?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might be the issue. You might have been hired for being bright and creative, but now feel like you are constantly letting everyone down. Try as you might you tend to forget things, or not finish what needs to be done. It can also look like often being late, or being known as disruptive.

Always trying too hard, overcompensating, annoying others?

Anxiety can leave us constantly paranoid about what others think of us. We can then try so hard to be liked we drive others crazy with our overcompensating.

Known as oversensitive? Blow hot and cold with colleagues?

Borderline personalty disorder (BPD) might be your issue. Main symptoms include a fear of being rejected and abandoned that sees you lash out then withdraw.

And the other main symptom is emotional dysregulation. This means your emotions change too quickly and before you can stop them. It can feel like you lack some sort of emotional protective skin others have, and the end result is you come across as a difficult employee. 

difficult employeeFeel tense and unable to be yourself at work? 

Are you someone else entirely when at work, compared to when with your loved ones or at home? And do you have fearful thoughts in the workplace? Or a sense of dread the closer you get to the office each morning? Always overthink all the things you said and did around colleagues and judge yourself? Social anxiety can be the issue.

What should I do if I think I am a bad colleague?

1. Keep a diary for a week or two.

It’s better to start with facts over suspicions or anxieties. Keep a dairy for a few weeks of interactions with colleagues or things that actually go wrong, and of reactions of others you feel show they don’t like you or are upset with you. What exactly happened? How did it make you feel, and what behaviour then followed? 

2. Step back and see the big picture.

Is this the first time you’ve had an issue? Is it related to taking the wrong job you aren’t comfortable with? Or is the truth that there are there parallels to the way you relate to others outside of work? Family, friends? Did you have similar issues at school? What is the real root of you seeming a difficult employee?

3. Ask for constructive feedback.

Sometimes we can create a situation in our head that is far different than the one we are actually in, particularly if we have anxiety or low self-esteem. So it’s best to get feedback before panicking. Often this helps us to see a more balanced picture, as everyone also has skills and positives.

So what now?

Sometimes we have just taken a wrong turn. We’ve said yes to a job deep down we knew we’d hate. And our frustrations at constantly having to put all our time and energy towards something we don’t like can leave us to be far from our best selves.

If this is the case, then careers counselling or working with a coach can be a godsend. We can get crystal clear on what we really want, as opposed to what we think we should want from life. And clarify our values, so that we start making choices that align with who we are, instead of constantly sabotaging our own wellbeing.

Suspect your workplace issues might be connected to longstanding personal issues you need to deal with? Instead of blaming yourself, take action and seek support. Working with a talk therapist can mean you finally face unresolved emotions and experiences, then learn new ways of relating that can mean you finally feel understood and appreciated.

Sick of being misunderstood and seen as difficult? We connect you with some of London’s best talk therapists who can help you turn around your life. Or use our booking platform to find UK-wide therapists for every budget.


Andrea M. Darcy mental health expertAndrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer. She also runs a consultancy helping people find their perfect therapy and therapist. As someone with ADHD she has never been one for working in teams so has always been a freelancer! Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy


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Blog Topics: Anxiety & Stress, Work Life

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