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How to Articulate the Reporting of a Bad Attitude

Oct 25, 2016
Deb Muller

They’re lurking in every office behind furrowed brows, frowns, and sarcastic remarks. They demoralize the workplace, bringing coworkers down to their negativity. Let them be, and they’ll likely impact bottom lines, perceptions of management, and productivity.

Even if culture appears great, there’s likely a bad seed who’s flying under the radar.

In fact, organizations with over 1,000 employees should expect at least 200 behavioral or performance employee relations cases annually, according to our own 2016 Benchmark Study.

The approach in language used when citing toxic behavior will determine its effectiveness; attitude alone can’t be documented. Get to the point—how is the constant complainer affecting business?

Document Specific Behavior; Do Not Be Vague!

Simply saying somebody has a “bad attitude” does very little to combat the behavior. Without any more specifics, you will likely have no success in changing the behavior and helping the employee get back on track. And if the behavior continues, it would be risky to to take further action. Terminating without proper documentation can result in a wrongful termination lawsuit—and his/her “bad attitude” will be nothing in comparison to leadership’s following a court appearance.

Instead of just citing someone as being grumpy or a cynic, be specific. Take the time to constructively describe both the physical and verbal behaviors. Tie the “whining” to its impact on performance, work environment, and/or relationships with co-workers or clients.

If an employee rolls his eyes every time you start a team building activity, be prepared to document it and discuss with the employee the impact to the rest of the team. If the employee repeatedly cuts you off when you start to discuss a new way of doing something, explain why it is counter-productive, not to mention disrespectful.

It’s highly likely that the toxic behavior is leaving negative residue in some aspect of the business, and it’s up to management or supervisors to locate those points of impact, be specific in communicating the issue to the employee and hold them accountable to making a change.

Get to the Root of the Problem

A bad attitude can arise from troubles stemming outside of work. Before management makes a decision, discuss the behavioral problem with the employee.

Life Circumstances

They may not be 100% open during discussion, but knowing that life circumstances have seeped into the workplace provides openings to quickly diminish the poor attitude. If an employee knows management understands the situation and encourages them, they’re likely to find work a “safe space” among people who care about their well-being.

And if that’s the conclusion, management did a great job.

Cultural Differences

Cultural awareness is important when considering a bad attitude.

As Americans, the way we interpret and understand body and verbal communication is very different from other cultures. It’s possible that the alleged “negative” employee doesn’t mean to be negative at all—or that he/she even understands that it’s perceived that way.

For instance, we perceive a lack of eye-contact as indication that the other person isn’t listening to us. In certain South American, Asian, and Middle Eastern cultures, however, it’s understood that making eye contact is rude.

Losing an employee over miscommunication can be dodged simply with an open dialogue.

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Their Side of the Story

If negative comments were made, discuss them objectively with the employee. Allow the employee to speak their concerns and reference, if possible, any specific events or interactions leading to the comments.

Management or supervisors might find validity to some of the concerns. They might find simple ways to ensure the employee’s satisfaction. And that’s a big win for everybody involved.

Moving Forward

Organizations want to move beyond a permeating bad attitude as soon as possible. It’s likely the employee doesn’t like being angry or resentful either.

If, after the meeting, the results were neutral at best – management needs to implement a Performance Improvement Plan, clearly emphasizing the changes in behavior and performance expected as referenced in policies or the employee handbook.

Management should consider these questions during, and after, a Performance Improvement Plan:

  • Are there recognizable changes to his/her behavior?
  • What standards must they improve upon? Has improvement been attempted/made?
  • How was his/her engagement with coworkers before the PIP? How are they now?
  • Are they still struggling with certain behaviors? How are those impacting performance?

Encouraging both open communication and the employee his/herself can have profound effects on their performance. Documenting specific behaviors in relation to productivity ensure that both you, and the employee, are on the same page and understand the importance of this pivot in attitude.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.