Seven Steps for Addressing Bad Behavior at Work

HR & Safety

Swift action, good judgment are keys to solving common problems

Troublesome employee behavior comes in many forms. Extra long coffee breaks. Showing up late. Spending too much time on personal business. These behaviors rarely go unnoticed by other employees and, if not addressed quckly, can lead to conflict, resentment, bad morale, and loss of respect for management. As a small-business owner, it’s your responsibility to recognize and deal with difficult employees. Here’s how:

  1. Evaluate the problem. Don’t rush to judgment or use punitive measures until you have evaluated the situation. We all have bad days or quirks that come to the fore when we’re stressed. Ask yourself whether the problem is a one-off incident or part of a pattern of behavior.
  2. Investigate. Acting on gossip and hearsay can be disruptive and encourage the same kind of behavior from other employees. On the other hand, don’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Ask other managers or people close to your business whether they have witnessed the problem behavior.
  3. Plan your next steps. Confronting the situation quickly and head-on is a must, but be sure to plan your approach. For example, don’t confront an employee in front of his or her peers; schedule a private meeting and consider whether your HR manager (if you have one) should attend.
  4. Confront the problem behavior. Plan what you intend to say, sticking to what you know and allowing time for the employee to respond. Remember, you are seeking to address the behavior, not the individual. Focus on the goals of the team and how the behavior compromises team performance. Emphasize your position of authority and leadership by stressing what you want from your employees, rather than dwelling on the negative. For example, rather than saying, “You are wasting my time and money by spending too much time on Facebook,” emphasize the kind of behavior you are seeking: “I need my team to work together with minimal distractions to help us achieve our goals.”
  5. Ask for an explanation. Ask your employee to explain the behavior; you might be surprised by the answer. For example, an employee who once worked for a small business repeatedly turned up for work late and did nothing but catch up on gossip for the first hour of the day. When confronted with the problem, she accepted that her behavior fell short, but she also said that she felt overwhelmed in the morning by the volume of email in her inbox and found herself avoiding it.
  6. Work together toward resolution. Instead of simply telling employees what you want to see change, first ask them how they think they can do things differently. Then monitor and continue to review behavior. Follow up with additional meetings if necessary.
  7. Seek advice for more serious issues. If your problem employee is exhibiting more serious behavior, such as bullying or stealing, you many need to seek professional advice. For additional guidance, call CBIA’s HR Hotline at 860.244.1900 .

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