March 30, 2022

Whether employees are working onsite or remotely, disruptive behavior can take many forms — bullying, gossiping, angry blowups, complaining, interrupting, tardiness and sabotaging others are a few examples. If not actively addressed, bad behaviors can foster a toxic work environment that can hurt productivity, morale and teamwork. Further, if problem behaviors are left unchecked, they can spread to other employees.

One of the proactive steps that organizations can take to prevent behavior problems from escalating into serious issues is to provide managers with regular training on how to identify and effectively handle inappropriate behaviors. Training provides practical insights and actions that enable managers to:

  1. Stay calm and think through the situation
    When managers become aware of an issue, they should start by taking time to think about the specific incident and assess whether and why it’s a problem. It’s important to keep personal feelings in check and be objective and consistent in determining how to proceed, while following the organization’s written policies and procedures.
  2. Keep conversations professional, not personal
    Preparing in advance for one-on-one conversations with the employee helps ensure a professional exchange. This allows managers to anticipate the employee’s questions and reactions and think about constructive ways to respond. Key to a productive conversation is to focus on the behaviors and specific incidents or issues and not the personality of the employee. Managers should clearly explain their concerns, avoid making assumptions and listen carefully to the employee’s side of the story.
  3. Agree on an action plan
    One of the outcomes from one-on-one conversations should be coming up with a mutually agreed upon action plan to change the disruptive behavior and solve the problem. A written plan should clearly communicate the expectations and actions the employee agreed to take and confirm the manager’s willingness to help the employee through training, guidance and other assistance.
  4. Apply fair and consistent discipline
    Regardless of how unsatisfactory the employee’s behavior or job performance is, having written policies and procedures and thoroughly documenting conversations and actions taken helps ensure that discipline is applied fairly and consistently, underscoring the organization’s commitment to creating a positive, respectful and productive work environment.
  5. Follow up with honest feedback
    Managers should monitor progress on whether the unwanted behaviors have stopped and follow up regularly with honest feedback. Sometimes this means seeking insight on the employee’s progress from another trusted team member, while keeping in mind that others may have clouded judgment.

Traliant Insight

Like most problems, ignoring disruptive workplace conduct doesn’t usually make it go away. Training managers on how to effectively handle difficult employees – focusing on the specific behaviors rather than personalities – is key to creating a positive, respectful work environment, and minimizing the risk of complaints of discrimination, retaliation or wrongful termination.