How to handle an employee who is reluctant about taking up projects


Short answer: Fire the employee!

Long answer: It’s a professional nightmare to work with reluctant employees. If left unsettled it could affect your workforce - adding on their burden and even influencing them to adopt the same means. The first step to resolve the issue is to confirm if the employee has the requisite skill to handle the assignment or if it's an attitude problem. Now, someone with an attitude problem should be asked to go.

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Imagine you joined a new organisation as a manager, and you need to work with employees who have been around longer than you have. The management has asked you to hold a meeting with your subordinates to understand if a particular software needs to be purchased.

In the meeting, you ask one of the team members - “Hey Rohit, can you check if using XYZ product makes more sense for us instead of our current vendor?”

Rohit replies with a resounding “No” with no explanations given. What do you? Not only has he undermined your authority, it is a classic case of embarrassment as well.

Here’s how you deal with something like this:

Ask Rohit to explain himself. Before that, explain how his tone was offensive (do this in front of the employees). It is not that you are showing someone his place. You are re-establishing your authority without coming across as arrogant. Now, let Rohit do the talking.

If he refuses to take up extra work or attend training sessions, then remind him the total hours needed to finish his pending projects and how the software is part of skill development. If he says that he doesn’t want to take up a new task without any valid reason, then go back to the ‘Short Answer’.

If it is a reason that the employee wants to give in private, do take him to a private room where you can give the opportunity to explain himself/herself.

Here are some ways you can make such a situation better:

Be patient with such people

During the course of a project, it is highly likely that the employee can't sustain the motivation or productivity levels. Try talking to the employee during such a phase? If a particular project is taking a longer time to finish, then the employees’ interest must have waned. Remind the employees about project goals and help them understand its importance. Provide regular updates, get your staff involved and have brainstorming sessions so everyone feels a sense of ownership.

Proper communication with the team members

Improper communication can completely derail the prompt completion of your project. Reluctant workers usually don't clarify their doubts, do not participate in discussions or uncertainty takes a toll on their decision-making skills. Ensure that there is a lot of information exchange during the project so that even the usually reticent employees are motivated to speak up.

Have one-on-one meetings

The more you can connect with your employees the better you'll understand their issues, be it personal or professional. Face to face chats will provide them with a sense of belonging and they would open up without hesitation. Maintaining a cordial relationship would drive them to work for the team and you.


If you don't provide your team with regular feedbacks, then you can count the days before an unprecedented downward spiral. Giving feedbacks at regular intervals will guide employees and ensure they are on right course to get their objectives wrapped up. So as a manager it's important to provide constructive criticism at regular intervals.

With all said and done, motivating a reluctant worker can seem like an insurmountable task. Meet them privately, set strict expectations and if there are areas where he/she is failing, drive them to the right one. Set specific deadlines for improvement. Remind them that you are looking at ways to improve. Maintain records of the employees performance and improvement, if any.

Read next: How to build a great relationship with your employee from the very beginning.


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