Your Employee Has a Bad Attitude. Now what?

Posted on September 6, 2011.

Everyone has worked alongside a colleague with a bad attitude, but how do you handle it when you’re the manager?A question about emotional outbursts on Ask Cindy & Laura got me thinking. It’s tempting to label these people and move on, but left unaddressed, they’ll destroy your team’s morale and office productivity.

What constitutes a bad attitude and how do you stop it?

  • Emotional outbursts, which may or may not be followed by verbal abuse. Years ago, I had a client that would call up screaming and cursing.  Following these emotional outbursts my administrative staff would come in my office physically upset.  After countless discussions, I ended up banning him from phoning anyone in the office other than myself. If I had known then what I know now, I would have fired him as a client.  There is no room for verbal abuse at home or at work.
  • Mood swings. Working with someone who is Mary Poppins one day and Darth Vader the next makes everyone uncomfortable. This kind of unpredictability can break a lot of glass along the way, causing stress and reducing productivity.  Confront the behavior with a direct and honest conversation, using specific examples. If there are issues outside the office creating these mood swings, suggest counseling. But make certain it’s clear that the glass breaking is unacceptable.
  • Insubordination, never to be confused with disagreement, is the refusal to perform the job. It can also mean unethical behavior including theft, fighting and misappropriation of property. Insubordination must never be tolerated. If your firm doesn’t have a policy of immediate dismissal for insubordination, get one. Zero tolerance is the only solution.
  • Disdain for the company always surprises me. Why on earth do people work for a company they loathe?  We could blame the economy and fear of job loss, but let’s be honest, like a fungus, this behavior exists no matter the economic climate.  As a manager, this one is a challenge.  Though it’s rare for the constant complaining to reach your desk, you know it’s there. The most effective way to address this issue is during a formal appraisal.  Collect feedback from co-workers ahead of time and, during your meeting, share how he or she is perceived in the office.  You may even question why they remain at a company they hate. Since people rarely see themselves as others do, the shock of this information will put them back on track.  Establish specific behaviors you want them to stop and start doing. Then you can provide ongoing, timely feedback.
  • It’s not my job.  This one is my favorite. This person knows exactly what’s in his or her job description and will never, ever volunteer to do anything outside that. Often, this is also the same person who wonders why they never get promoted. You have to admit, if you didn’t have to deal with it, this would almost be funny. But it’s an insidious problem and should be dealt with head on. When this employee offers a "pass the buck" response, tell them it’s unacceptable.  Emphasize that job descriptions are only guidelines.  Eventually, this personality type will either step up or leave.

The irony and challenge of dealing with a bad attitude is that it’s not uncommon for the culprit to also be a strong producer.  Getting to the underlying cause of the problem may take time and effort, but when you’re successful, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

Tell us how you've dealt with a bad attitude in your office.