You Say I’ve Got a Bad Attitude? | Handling Employee Relations Issues

by | May 4, 2010 | Blog, Employee Relations

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

you got yourself a load of trouble now 
you got yourself a bad deal 
you say i’ve got a bad attitude 
howd ‘you think i feel

song lyrics from Bad Attitude, Deep Purple

Our last blog post discussed some of the difficult employee relations issues that you may face in the workplace when bad attitudes strike. Today’s blog will discuss just how to deal with those sticky and often times very difficult situations.

When it’s time to talk to the employee causing your employee relations issues, keep their feelings in mind. For the initial conversation, be very aware of any behavior on your part that could increase their defensiveness. Instead of telling them what they need to do, for instance, consider asking them what you would like to see them do.  Make sure you let them know that this meeting is meant as a constructive environment.

Diffusing Defensive Reactions

Give them examples of their behavior, avoiding any character judgments (avoid direct words like you), and tell them how their behavior makes others feel and how it reflects on the company. The first conversation is to make the employee aware of their behaviors as well as the company’s expectations – there should be no ultimatums or consequences at this point.  Try to come to an agreement WITH the employee to improve the workplace experience.  Do not just bark orders on what needs to happen.  It is important that you allow them to be part of the decision. This will lower their defenses further and increase the likelihood of the changes taking hold.

Often, calling attention to the matter in a formal setting is enough for the employee to make the necessary changes on their own.  Keep in mind that they may not have even been aware of how their behavior was affecting others.

What If They Don’t Listen?

If the employee doesn’t get on board and make the changes, have a follow up meeting a week or two later. Be prepared to cite how the behaviors have continued and don’t be afraid to ask why.  At this point they have demonstrated their inability to follow through.

At this stage in the conversation, the employee will probably engage more in dialogue in this conversation, whether with defensiveness or a cry for help.   It is important that you listen to what they have to say.  It could be the case that this person is really a great employee, but perhaps they are having difficulty with a life situation that is affecting their performance (more on this next time).  Finish the meeting with a plan of action and the encouragement that you hope that this will resolve the situation once and for all.

Sometimes There is Nothing You Can Do

For an employee to improve, he or she first has to want to improve.  Sometimes, no matter what you do, behavior will not change.  If the behavior continues on without any signs of improvement, it’s time for tough love. The next time you meet with the employee will be the time when you outline what is acceptable behavior, what is not acceptable behavior, and what the consequences will be if the unacceptable behavior continues.

It is perfectly okay to tell the employee that he or she must stop this behavior and meet company expectations of behavior (that should be outlined in your employee handbook), otherwise disciplinary action will follow, including termination. Tell them specifically what behavior is expected and required so that there can be no defense of uncertainty on their part. Give them a time period in which you expect to see significant changes in behavior, and schedule a follow up.

Finally, if the employee continues to exhibit the poor behavior that brought them to you in the first place, chances are there are no more conversations you can have with them that will change them. It may be time to cut them loose.

As businessman and author Harvey Mackay wrote, “It is isn’t the people you fire that make your life miserable, it’s the people you don’t.” Toxic employees will destroy an organization, and if they are unwilling to change you can’t risk the morale of the rest of the organization being destroyed by both their bad behaviors and your lack of willingness to do anything about it.

Next time we’ll discuss some things to be aware of when confronting your employees.  Often times when talking to employees about performance issues you’ll find out much more information than you are prepared to uncover.

Stay tuned and don’t forget to tell your friends and co-workers about the IntegrityHR Human Resources blog!

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