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No More Mr. Negative: How To Handle A Toxic Employee In The Workplace

An employee’s attitude can cause more disruption to a work environment than you thought.  The problem simply isn’t a matter of ability; rather it is a matter of attitude.  An employee’s aggressive or dysfunctional attitude can manifest itself in everything from quiet disobedience to outright insubordination.  It is important for an employer to maintain a positive and healthy work environment to ensure your company is productive and thriving.  As a business owner you must be able to address employees with attitude problems to preserve the work environment.

Here are some valuable tips on managing employee attitude issues:

  1. View the situation strictly as a BEHAVIORAL problem.  Instead of engaging in a debate about the employee’s dysfunctional or aggressive ATTITUDE it is best to view the situation merely as a BEHAVIORAL problem.

Employers should document the employee’s BEHAVIOR.  Be sure to record any specific verbal or physical actions or behaviors that distress you, damage productivity, negatively impact workplace morale, or reflect poorly on your business.  Also remember to write down nonverbal behaviors including if the employee rolls their eyes, clenches their fists, or stares into space.

  1. Pinpoint the issue to the particular problem. It will help to identify the exact type of behavior the employee’s attitude has caused.  Take a look at this list of examples to help you determine the specific issue:

  2. Aggressiveness

  3. Carelessness

  4. Complaining

  5. Insensitive to others

  6. Excessive competitiveness

  7. Disruptive or explosive conduct

  8. Laziness

  9. Inattention to work

  10. Impoliteness or rudeness

  11. Excessive socializing

  12. Pessimistic/cynical outlook/negative posture

  13. Document the frequency of the employee’s transgressions and how they affect colleagues’ performance, the workplace environment or work flow. Be sure to list all justified business reasons as to why the behavior must cease.

  14. Speak with the employee, one-on-one. Make sure this meeting is in private and takes place when no one is around.  Explain that you wish to discuss the employee’s behavior.  Highlight situations where the employee handled themselves appropriately AND situations where their attitude caused them to behave negatively affecting those around them to be uncomfortable and ultimately having a negative impact on the company.

  15. Do not feel bad about being direct. Make known to the employee the behaviors you won’t tolerate.  It is important to clearly explain to the employee that their behavior must stop.  It is a good idea to then follow up with a description of the behavior preferred in the workplace.  For example, you might want to explain that the employee needs to be courteous, helpful and cooperative.

  16. Let the employee have an opportunity to respond. Your employee may want the chance to explain why they had a behavioral problem.  Be sure to stick to the issue and not get “smoke screened” to discussing other subjects or other people.  Stay on the subject.  The employee may not be aware what he or she is doing or may not realize how it affects the workplace environment.  Alternatively the employer may realize an employee’s actions are an indication of a more serious problem.

  17. Help the employee improve. Give the employee tips to fix their problem.  Or if the employee’s issues are caused by a problem in the workplace try to resolve that issue.

  18. Be sure to document the meeting and put the document to file. Also be sure to monitor the employee’s behavior going forward and depending on the severity, the employee should know that if no improvement is seen, “further action will be taken up to and including termination of employment.”

Bad attitudes always translate to bad behavior which ultimately affects the culture of your organization.


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