Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Most of us who have managed people have had the unpleasant experience of dealing with negative employee behaviors.
It’s one of those things that just drains the energy out of you and makes being a manager an unpopular job.
Often times we think, I didn’t sign up for this!
Who Wants To Go To Work And Play Referee?
After all, who wants to go to work and play referee with adults? I’m thinking – no one.
The times I was forced to deal with negative behavior at work, I remember thinking, why can’t everyone just follow the rules and play nice? Isn’t that what we learned in kindergarten?
While confronting employees is never fun, it can be done with diplomacy and result in changed behaviors.
Whether the employee is being insubordinate or displaying negativity toward another employee, the sooner the employee is confronted the more likely it will be that you’ll be able to turn the behavior around.
A challenge many managers face is mustering up the energy to address blatant issues. Confrontation is exhausting and simply not fun.
I sometimes compare it to raising kids, there are times when you act like you didn’t see them misbehaving because you didn’t have the energy to correct them. This approach is never effective.
5 Steps For Dealing With Employee Behavior Issues
1. Confront The Issue
The first step is to simply confront the employee as soon as you are aware of the issue. Help the employee understand that the behavior they are demonstrating is not appropriate.
Do this by having a formal conversation with the employee.
This should be a face-to-face meeting, in a private location – like the manager’s office.
When meeting with the employee, explain why you are meeting with him/her.
For example, “Sue we are meeting today to discuss the fact that you did not communicate to me that you would be taking this week off of work. Since I was not aware that you would not be here, we were left scrambling to fill your responsibilities.”
2. Explain Your Understanding
Very often, what we understand to be fact is not always accurate.
Explain your understanding of the incident. It is always a good leadership practice to give the employee the opportunity to give their account of the incident.
Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for things that happen, so giving the employee the benefit-of-the-doubt shows that you are willing to hear their perspective.
A conversation also helps to ensure there is no misunderstanding of the incident. It is never good to address an issue without the benefit of understanding all of the facts.
For instance, in the above example, the employee may have communicated their out-of-office plans to another supervisor who they expected to communicate with you.
3. Policy Reminder
Remind the employee of company policy and when the behavior expectation was communicated to them. This is often done during new employee orientation and written in a policy manual.
In this particular situation, show the employee the attendance policy as written in the employee manual.
Make it a practice to have employees sign that they have read and understood the employee policies as written in the manual. This signature will document that the expectation was communicated to them.
This conversation should be a reminder of company policy and what your expectations are for adhering to the policy.
For example, “Sue, when we went over the attendance policy in new employee orientation, it was explained that we require three weeks’ notice for vacation approval”.
4. Explain The Why
A mistake many organizations make is not explaining the why behind company policies. We managers write policy but often don’t explain why the policy was even written.
Explain why the policy is important and why the policy is in place.
Try to help the employee understand the ramifications of their behaviors and how his/her decision affects other people.
For example, “Sue, when I don’t know you won’t be here, I am not able to arrange for someone to cover your responsibilities in your absence. This could result in a negative experience for our customers.”
Employees are more aware and compliant when they understand the why behind policies.
5. Articulate the Consequences
Policies are only as good as your ability to enforce them.
Explain what your expectations are and what the consequences will be if expectations are not met in the future.
For example, “Sue, this is the second time this has happened and if this happens a third time we will begin a formal disciplinary process”.
Employees follow the lead of their manager. If a manager doesn’t follow through on disciplinary action, employees perceive that the policy is not important.
6. Document the Incident
During an incident, we think we will remember. However, we are all busy, and time seems to diminish our memory for specifics.
Take the time to document all issues that deal with employee performance, and keep your notes in the employee’s file.
Make sure you document the date, time, and all details of the incident.
The more details you have, the easier it will be to have a conversation during the annual performance conversation.
Not All Employees Are Alike
Most of us have had the pleasure of working with star employees. But unfortunately, not all employees are alike.
It is unfortunate, but some employees need more hand-holding, coaching, and management than others. I refer to these employees as high maintenance.
The job of a great manager is to help employees grow. Not every employee develops at the same speed. Some need a little more time for development.
But I’m a firm believer that the more time you spend with an employee on the front-end of their employment, the less time you will need to coach and correct them later on.
This responsibility is not a favored aspect of a manager’s job. However, it is an important part of developing and managing employee performance.