September 11, 2015

“She has a bad attitude and she wants a RAISE?”

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How to regain control in an employee dispute

I get questions all the time about wage negotiations and employee attitude problems, but I don’t usually get those questions together. Here’s a paraphrased query I recently received about an employee who, after working for the practice for only a brief time, was both demanding a raise AND already demonstrating a bad attitude.

“I have a new employee who was hired on at a higher rate than she was initially asking for. She is a good assistant, but she has only been working here for a few months, and already wants a raise! On top of that, she has a very demanding bad attitude. How should I handle her?

She refused to sign her welcome letter, which stated her rate of pay. And although she is skilled, I’m not comfortable with giving her a raise at this point.”

Let’s tackle the pay negotiation issue first.

At-will employment works both ways

In a situation like this, my first concern is whether “at-will” status has been properly preserved. Hopefully your welcome letter was a true at-will employment offer, for no specific amount of time, and containing no language that inadvertently turns it into a contract.

Assuming it is, employment at will works both ways. Call the employee in and let her know that her rate of pay and the benefits as outlined do not require her signature. She has two options.

  1. By continuing to work, she is accepting the offer, and it applies from this moment forward.
  2. She can exercise her at-will status and choose to work someplace else.

It’s up to her.

As the manager, you are well within your rights to establish the rate of pay and not negotiate.

If you wish, tell her she can request an appointment for an evaluation in six months. At that time, she may present tangible, measurable reasons why she should get a raise in pay based on her performance.

Regarding the “bad apple” attitude: a bad apple in a basket with other apples will eventually infect them all. And since people cannot be changed against their will, the best a manager can do is to communicate expectations in a clear, concise, and consistent way.

If the bad apple won’t cure itself, the next step is to get it out of the basket. Achieving either option requires a little finesse. The FIRR Formula is a great way to map out conversations when improvement is needed. Here’s how the formula works, in the context of a sample management conversation centered around tardiness:

  • Facts are specific behaviors you can see or hear. “You were 15 minutes late on Monday” is indisputable, and more powerful than opinions.
  • Impact is the result of the fact. To continue the example above: “Because you were late, Sarah had to handle two patients herself until you came in.”
  • Reason is your statement of belief that the employee didn’t have bad intentions and is capable of improvement: “I know you didn’t intend our patients to get half the attention they pay for.”
  • Request is the specific, measurable action you want the employee to take. For example: “Going forward, I expect you here 5 minutes early. In future, the tolerance for being late will be zero,” (or once per month at most).

Pretty easy, right? Because being late is tangible.

So what about a bad attitude?

A persistent bad attitude may be obvious, but it isn’t tangible—so telling someone they have one and need to fix it isn’t clear communication and provokes defensiveness. So, before you get together with the employee, break down what you mean by bad attitude, and come up with specific examples of this attitude in action.

Does she roll her eyes when you ask her to do something? Perhaps she complains to others, instead of bringing her issue to you. Maybe she communicates in an unprofessional manner, cutting people off in mid-sentence, or is dismissive if you bring up something needing improvement. These can be tangible facts in a FIRR conversation.

Your job as a manager is not to parent employees but to let them know what you expect of them, where they are excelling, and where they need to improve. If you don’t see the improvements you’ve requested, start moving the employee towards the door. (Just make sure you’ve properly documented the issues and your coaching attempts, and give the CEDR Solution Center a call at 866-414-6056 to discuss any extra risk factors first.)

On both the wage dispute and “bad apple” points, you wouldn’t accept this behavior from a brand new hire, and just because this employee has spent a few months working for you, she doesn’t get to set her own standards and control negotiations.

Take the pay issue on first. She may not be able to handle it. Let her decide. It’s not your problem. Then, if she becomes disruptive or you want to take on the bad apple issue, use the FIRR method. It works.

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Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature, and is not intended to replace good counsel about a specific issue with either your attorney or your favorite HR expert.

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.

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