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Dealing with Bad Attitude Employees

HR Advisor feature article | February 2008

Many managers unfortunately spend a tremendous amount of time dealing with the same employees about the same unprofessional behavior problems. Such ongoing employee problems are not only highly disruptive to a company's work environment but also trickle down to the organization's bottom line in terms of lost productivity, costly employee turnovers, and poor customer service.

Common reasons an employee may carry a bad attitude at work include the intent to undermine Management for personal gains, personal problems spilling over into the workplace environment, and / or the supervisor's ineffective relationship management with the employee.

Consider the following tips to help manage unacceptable workplace conduct and behavior: 

1. Document observations.  Be sure your documentation details an employee's specific workplace attitude and behavior issues and how they relate to job performance problems.  Avoid generalizations about the employee's personality or demeanor that can be interpreted to be discriminatory or perceived as evidence for alleged harassment.  The more comprehensive, detailed, and orderly your documentation, the better positioned you are to make and substantiate a decision to discipline, suspend, and / or terminate. 

Example: "On Thursday, February 7, 2008, restaurant customer Bob complained that Employee X told Co-workers A, B, and C that they should charge Bob extra for coffee refills because he always asks for so many…On Friday, February 8, 2008, I confirmed the customer’s complaint with Co-workers A, B, and C; today is Employee X’s regular day off…On Monday, February 11, 2008, I observed Employee X making a similar comment to a new customer.”

2. Confront the employee.  Rather than pressuring the employee into confessing to or apologizing for his or her negative attitude, confront the issue directly with the employee by informing him or her that you are aware of the problem and will be monitoring it. 

Example:"Employee X, restaurant customer Bob claimed that you told your co-workers last Thursday that they should charge him extra for coffee refills because he always asks for so many.  Co-workers A, B, and C confirmed that you made such a comment.  Yesterday, I also observed you making a similar comment to a brand new customer."

3. Refer to relevant policies.  Many employers establish a standard of conduct policy to ensure employees behave and act responsibly.  This written policy often outlines the expected behavior, appropriate disciplinary actions, and available counseling options. 

Example: “Our customer service policy begins with the statement that ‘the customer must be treated with the utmost respect.’  Our beverage policy has always been to provide free, complimentary refills for all coffee and tea orders. These are policies you read and acknowledged on your first day of work.  I’d like you to take this extra copy home to look over this evening, and I would be happy to answer any questions or concerns you have after you’ve reviewed our policies.”

4. Relate to performance reviews.  Reiterate the objective and subjective measures (e.g. customer service, teamwork, project management, etc.) and their weight in influencing the employee's performance review ratings. 

Example: “As you can see on your recent performance evaluation, how well you perform in terms of customer service and team work, among other key areas, will determine your overall annual rating…which will also determine your eligibility for any pay increases and / or bonuses.” 

5. Provide your support.  After considering the employee’s responses, advise the employee on how to adjust work habits and improve job performance. If the employee brings up work-related issues (e.g. work overload, unclear job advancement opportunities, etc.), consider offering the employee coaching, mentoring, and / or training support with an agreed-upon plan of action. If the employee brings up personal, non-work issues that are affecting the person’s conduct and behavior, be as understanding as possible.  

Options to offer (and not force, demand, or require) may include:

  • Time off or a temporary schedule change to allow the employee extra time to address his or her personal issues.
  • A referral to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) service with counselors who are professionally trained to handle such matters; or
  • Referrals to legal resources as may be provided through pre-paid legal plans.

An employee who complains, argues, or gossips excessively in the workplace can be disruptive to a company's environment. Such negativity often translates to poor job performance and can create low morale in the company.  Therefore, having proactive policies and programs in place to ensure a workplace that’s positive and rewarding, as well as having managers who are prepared, can make a huge difference towards greater employee satisfaction and productivity.



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