April 5, 2015

Team player Ever have an employee with a permanent bad attitude? I call them “bad apples.”Here are some strategies for addressing their behavior that also empower you to let bad apple employees go if and when you need to.

Many managers throw their hands in the air when it comes to dealing with an employee’s bad attitude. Even worse, when you finally deal with them, things may escalate and you could wind up facing the threat of a lawsuit.

One bad apple in the basket infects the other employees.

You know the type, the one person in the office that starts gossip, rolls their eyes in the team meetings, resists new programs, complains to others but not directly to management. They generally have a strong sense of entitlement, often arising from being really good at the “hard” skills of their position, but rarely see how their negativity or communication skills are undermining their overall performance and perception by others as a positive contribution to the team.

Attitude is one of the most difficult performance issues to address. Often, the negativity itself prevents the employee from being open to constructive criticism, or even seeing the need for change. This means either that the bad behavior continues unchecked, while resentments build and team morale dwindles, or each time you try to address the issue the result is not what you are looking for.

Keeping an employee in a job they don’t like is not doing you or them a favor.

Sometimes a termination is the best thing for the rest of the team and even the employee, but it does mean considerable costs and loss of time in replacing and retraining someone for that position. So, if you believe the employee is worth your efforts to rehabilitate, or just want to give them one last chance to improve, there are some things you can do to make your corrective coaching more effective and better received. At the same time that last effort is often the only written record many employers have to lean back on, should the termination lead to a complaint.

Here’s what the lawyers would prefer you didn’t understand or address.

Addressing the issue(s) in a consistent way also gives you an opportunity to create a record of the issues and your effort to ask the employee to self correct. Plain and simple, a well written corrective action is a huge step towards removing the vagaries that attorneys exploit.

  1. Don’t just call it a negative attitude. Saying someone has a bad attitude isn’t descriptive enough and doesn’t help the person understand what action you expect from them. You need to say what the person is actually doing that is unacceptable. Here are some examples of what the real problem is:
    • We feel you are not building and maintaining positive team relationships
    • Your communications are often perceived as disruptive or disrespectful
    • When you have a bad day, we all have a bad day and this leads to your team members being stressed or they feel uneasy about your comments and actions and this bleeds into our relationships with our patients
    • Your conversation contains excessive complaints and derogatory remarks
    • When you are upset or anyone is trying to work with you, you might not realize it but leads to others seeing you as failing to cooperate and/or help out other team members
    • Employee is resistant to new programs or ideas, before they have been given a chance to work
  2. Tell them the impact of their actions. Employees with bad attitudes often don’t get the impact of their not-so-subtle negativity. Being clear about the impact of their behavior tends to get through a person’s defenses, as opposed to triggering them. Most people don’t want to disrupt the entire office, but they don’t see the real impact of their conduct is usually contrary to their intentions. Here are some examples:
    • When you roll your eyes and cluck your teeth during our staff meetings, it is disruptive and disrespectful to the person speaking.
    • When you bring your personal issues to work, it makes others feel uncomfortable and distracts them from their job duties.
    • You are powerful here. When you are happy, everyone is happy. But when you are in a bad mood, the rest of the team is on eggshells.
    • The culmination of the issues is affecting the team and in turn that is impacting how we are with the patients and that hurts business.
  3. Keep the coaching direct and constructive. It’s important to model the professionalism you expect from the employee. As hard as it may be, don’t give in to their manipulations, name calling or emotional responses. The point is not make them feel badly about their behavior, but to have a clear conversation in which you bring the problem and its impact to their awareness, and set a clear expectations for self-correction. If they cry, give them a moment to compose themselves. Your desired approach is calm, confident and assertive. Avoid sarcasm. And don’t put off the conversation. The sooner you nip an attitude problem in the bud, the better. You might consider beginning the conversation with “you may not be aware but”……..insert problem and then impact here. And then end the conversation with…and I am confident that if you choose to, you can address these issues and improve.
  4. Write it down. Like all corrective actions, it’s important to document the coaching session. This step tends to get avoided because it’s difficult to be clear about these kinds of issues. It’s easy to write “You were late on 3 occasions.” It’s a bit harder to write about a lack of cheerfulness. But writing it will at the very least, prepare you for the meeting.
  5. Firing them. If the final step is firing or them getting upset with being held accountable and walking out, then you need to be able to defend against an angry employee. They may contact an attorney or file a complaint with any one of a number of government agencies in retaliation against you. If this happens it is far better to have documentation of your efforts and to be able to immediately respond with proof that you were attempting to address the employee’s behavior by asking them to self correct, and that they choose not to, or to quit.

The above 5 step Solution highlights the primary concerns and challenges managers face.

Members of CEDR enjoy full support in this area, including going over the issue and writing the communication in a way that supports you to feel comfortable in taking immediate action.

For more details and to learn how to secure incredibly affordable and on-going live expert support on hundreds of issues please call us at (602) 476-1418. You could have a solution and a plan of action in place by tomorrow!

For guidance on Progressive Corrective Coaching, download the free toolkit hosted on our toolkit download page.

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Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.