October 27, 2020

Managing Difficult Employee Behavior

Even under the best of circumstances, employees can engage in disruptive and inappropriate behaviors. This year, with its evolving uncertainties and stresses, it’s especially critical that managers know how to recognize and handle difficult employee behaviors and limit their harmful impact on the work environment and culture.

How can managers and team leaders tackle disruptive behaviors? These 6 tips can help:

1. Be alert to different types of problem behaviors

Disruptive behaviors can take many forms — bullying, gossiping, yelling and screaming, complaining, tardiness and sabotaging or mocking others are a few examples that pose potential problems for organizations. If not actively addressed, bad workplace behaviors can lead to harassment and other misconduct that violates workplace policies and laws.

2. Keep conversations professional, not personal

Like most problems, ignoring disruptive workplace behaviors doesn’t usually make them go away. Having one-on-one conversations with the employee is a good start. Preparing in advance can help keep the exchange professional, and allow managers to anticipate the employee’s questions and reactions. Constructive conversations should focus on the behaviors and not the personality. The key is to clearly explain the concerns, focus on specific incidents or issues, 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 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 and other assistance.

4. Administer fair and consistent discipline

Managers need to discipline employees in a fair and consistent manner. If not, there’s a risk of complaints of discrimination, retaliation and/or wrongful termination. Regardless of how unsatisfactory the employee’s behavior or job performance is, the organization needs written policies and procedures to ensure that discipline is consistent and fair, with strong documentation to help defend any claims.

5. Follow up 

Managers need to follow up regularly to provide honest feedback to the employee and monitor progress on whether the unwanted behaviors have stopped. 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.

6. Conduct regular training

Rather than being reactive, organizations can help prevent inappropriate behaviors by providing employees with training on a variety of workplace compliance and conduct topics. Starting with the onboarding process, all employees and managers can benefit from training on anti-harassment and anti-discrimination, diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias, workplace respect and civility, cultural sensitivity and code of conduct.

Traliant Insight

One of the challenges all managers face at some point in their career is how to tackle difficult and disruptive workplace behaviors. Along with written policies and procedures, training managers on how to handle problem employees is an important step in stopping negative behaviors before they escalate into serious problems and undermine the organization’s efforts to create a positive and respectful work environment.

Sign up for a free trial of our Managing Difficult Employees Training course:

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