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Addressing Poor Workplace Behavior

When it comes to managerial nightmares, from massive marketplace disruption to natural disasters, the scariest task for many managers is dealing with problematic employee behavior. Big issues call for big solutions, but workplace behavior that is merely “detrimental” or “disruptive” can be exceedingly difficult to resolve. Behavior is a nuanced issue that often calls for a nuanced and skillful resolution, and ignoring the issue or handling it poorly can further damage your workplace environment.

“Managers often avoid dealing with interpersonal issues because these problems can be very difficult to resolve.”
The Society for Human Resource Management


In the past we’ve explored ways to handle more egregious workplace issues like sexual harassment, where there are legal guidelines to follow. But less flagrant problems are much more difficult to police. These behavior issues include gossip, bullying, insubordination and general rudeness or disrespect. While these behaviors aren’t illegal per se, they can cause very real issues for your company.

Simply put, bad workplace behavior leads to a poor work environment, which can be the direct cause of employee turnover, as well as declining productivity and poor creativity. As hard as it is to address things like gossip or bad attitudes, it’s even harder to get your employees to do good work when they’re unhappy with their environment or their coworkers.

This is yet another reason why a strong and empowered HR department, or a well-informed PEO, can be a lifesaver for your business. Let expert HR professionals guide you in these tricky situations; it’s what they do.


Strategies for Behavioral Management

Don’t ignore it. Inaction implicitly condones and therefore encourages poor behavior. Plus, problems like these are likely to worsen if they’re not addressed, crippling your business and putting you at possible risk of legal liability.

Create meaningful, proactive training sessions. Don’t wait until you have a problem. Make conflict assessment and resolution a part of your managers’ ongoing training program.

Promote teamwork. Group activities and outings, civility training and even workplace personality tests can all help employees better understand themselves and sympathize with their coworkers.

Listen. Make employees feel heard. You don’t necessarily need to jump into action. Just be sure you’re open, aware, and actively allowing employees to voice their concerns. Sometimes that’s all it takes to deescalate issues.

Document issues. Whether it’s an overt disruption, a private employee complaint or something you overheard in passing, take note and keep a file on employee behavior. This will help you discern the difference between someone’s bad day and an ongoing issue. It will also provide you with thorough information if and when you have to confront an employee, in order to illustrate what you mean when you discuss ongoing problematic behavior. Lastly, documentation can be part of a healthy workplace self-assessment in order to prevent or address other issues resulting from poor behavior.


For more information and instructions on handling detrimental workplace behavior, visit the Society for Human Resource Management’s online toolkit.

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