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Mary Pomerantz

How to Handle a Good Employee with a Bad Attitude

Mary Pomerantz
A business manager trying to deal with a good employee who has a bad attitude.

If you have an underperforming employee who has a toxic attitude that is contaminating the rest of your staff, the solution is simple: find a replacement and fire him. But if that employee is one of your best workers, firing him may not be the best approach if you want to maintain your team’s productivity and amazing results. In many cases, a good employee’s bad attitude may be overlooked by managers because of his performance, but that is unfair to rest of your staff and will likely harm your company in the end. Here are some ideas to help you manage a good employee with a bad attitude.

Examine the Impact of the Employee’s Behavior

Employees complain about their employers. This is the natural order of things, so you want to be careful not to overreact immediately. Before taking any action at all, you should think about what effect, if any, your employee’s behavior is having. A worker complaining about an increasing workload or being overlooked for a promotion is not abnormal and may not warrant any serious action other than a private conversation. Before handing out any employee discipline, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are the employee’s complaints legitimate?
    If your good employee’s bad attitude stems from a real issue, it may be more understandable and easily remedied.
  • Is the employee’s attitude bleeding into the rest of the staff?
    While you certainly don’t want even one of your workers to be unhappy or have a bad attitude, it’s most important to see how it’s affecting the rest of your staff. Is this a contained problem or is it spreading?
Picture of an employee complaining to coworkers at the job.
  • Is the employee undermining your authority?
    It’s one thing to have a comment every now and then about the way the boss is handling things, it’s completely different when this criticism is ongoing and causes others to question your competence.

Immediately Address the Negative Behavior

One of the more common errors managers and business owners make when dealing with star employees who have bad attitudes is ignoring the negative behavior. Often, the thinking is that if it isn’t affecting performance, then why bother saying anything? The problem with this approach is that it emboldens the problem employee to believe he or she can do anything without fear of consequence as long as his or her productivity does not drop.

Once you notice that an employee’s behavior is negative, unwarranted, affecting the staff and/or undermining your authority, you need to address it quickly. Most often, a private sit-down conversation is sufficient at this stage. Keep the following tips in mind:

It’s important that your problem employee recognizes that bad behavior is a performance issue, regardless of how productive they believe they are.

  • Be specific about the behavior: Don’t just say “I don’t like your attitude.” Point out exactly what they are doing and how it’s negatively impacting the company.
  • Keep it results-oriented: It’s important that your problem employee recognizes that bad behavior is a performance issue, regardless of how productive they believe they are.
  • Let your employee respond: It’s highly likely that your bad apple employee will have a different opinion about his behavior and/or its impact than you. Be sure to allow him to speak freely.
  • Explain the consequences of inaction: Your employee needs to know that you mean business. Let him know that there will be consequences if the negative behavior continues and outline what exactly could happen.
  • Put it in writing: It’s critical that you document the entire meeting. This will give you a paper trail should you decide to terminate him in the future.
  • Follow through: Don’t threaten a punishment that you aren’t prepared to carry out. This will only embolden your bad apple employee and make you look weak to the rest of the staff.

Strong Employee Communication is Essential

We aren’t robots. Sometimes a little communication is necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page and that everyone is happy and pulling their weight at your company. Dealing with a good employee with a bad attitude is just one example of a situation where effective employee communication is critical to a successful business.

But for most business owners, it’s not easy to have productive conversations with workers. You may have too many employees or simply not enough time in the day to address these issues as they arise. You may also just not excel at this type of communication, which is common and completely understandable.

This is one of the reasons that partnering with an outsourced HR provider makes sense for most medium and large businesses. You have endless responsibilities to worry about at your business, let the professionals at TPG HR Services USA worry about your employee communications and relations while you take care of everything else at your business. Learn more about how we can help by calling 732-917-6000.

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