Can You Discipline Employees for Bad Attitudes?
In a word, yes. But wait! Read the rest — You shouldn’t just go off and write down “bad attitude” on a performance review when you have employee relations issues such as this. There are a number of things to consider, and a way to go about addressing the attitude that will actually be productive and yield a change.
Ultimately, the problem with addressing an employee’s bad attitude is that the description of that attitude is subjective. If they are getting to work on time and doing the work that they are supposed to do, it’s difficult to address how they interface with others without it coming down to one person just not liking another.
That said, how employees act toward one another is integral to the success of an organization. Employees with bad attitudes can cause a boatload of employee relations issues and cannot be ignored. They do need to be addressed, and sometimes even be told to pack it up.
The key to handling employee relations issues is to focus on objective facts and observable behavior, not the attitude that you feel is causing it. In fact, when you are having the conversation or writing the disciplinary action, leave the word “attitude” completely out of it. Instead you need to give specific of the behavior. If they are inconsiderate to others, give an example (and, yes, repeatedly refusing to clean up after themselves in the common kitchen counts).
If they are rude to others, be prepared to tell them what they’ve done and how it affects the workplace. If they antagonize others and instigate complaints without merit and start rumors, site the examples and how this impacts morale and productivity. You need to focus on the behavior of the employee, not their character.
But it’s just the way that they act and say things, not exactly what they say or do! Rolling eyes, arms crossed resolutely across the chest, not looking others in the eyes, shaking their heads when others are talking, talking over others, etc. Non-verbal communication is critical in our culture, and these are all socially accepted examples of people showing a lack of interests or a negative response. They are observable, quantifiable (how often do they do it?) and able to be documented.
Now that you’ve isolated what behaviors are unacceptable or detrimental to the workplace, you need to be prepared to tell the employee why. Some behaviors may actually violate workplace policy (housekeeping rules, customer service standards, even behavior that violates Company’s Mission or Vision Statement). You also need to be able to explain how their behavior impacts others and why the company expects their employees to act according to other standards.
Stay tuned. Next time we’ll discuss how those difficult discussions should play out and how to handle them. Don’t miss it!
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