Managing Bad Workplace Behavior


Poor or offensive behavior in the workplace must be confronted early and decisively. Lack of action may cause people to assume such behavior is acceptable to leadership, potentially prompting anger, low morale, or even spawning more negative behavior. Although some behavior must result in prompt firing or even legal action, for less serious issues, a three step framework can be helpful in dealing with bad workplace behavior. Those three steps are: confronting the behavior, devising an action plan, and planning for the future.

Confronting the Behavior

  • When discussing the situation with the relevant employee(s) do so in a fact-gathering manner first 
  • Come prepared with your understanding of the incident
  • Acknowledge any responsibility others may have for the situation
  • Listen openly without (internally) labeling the person or behavior
  • Be aware of your body language and tone of voice
  • Focus on specific behaviors, not any potential motivations
  • Allow the employee to discuss his/her motivation and thinking
  • Use questions such as “What else do I need to know to understand where you’re coming from?” so you get all the relevant facts and the employee feels heard
  • Paraphrase the employee’s explanation and ask him/her to confirm that your understanding is correct
  • Calmly but firmly point out how the employee’s poor behavior affected other individuals, teams, and/or the firm as a whole; be specific.

Devising an Action Plan

  • Ask the employee what he/she thinks is a reasonable consequence of the action (without agreeing to suggestions)
  • Calmly but firmly explain the firm’s policy (if any) about the behavior 
  • Discipline, if need be, according to company policy while trying to integrate the employee's suggestions if acceptable.

Planning for the Future

  • If the employee is worth retaining, clearly articulate what is expected in the future
  • Devise a development plan to allow the employee to demonstrate and practice new and improved behavior (do not stop at disciplining)
  • Invite the employee to work with you to refine a future-focused plan; include specific behaviors, milestones, and progress checks; involve HR, coaches, etc. as helpful
  • Ask the employee what he/she thinks could get in the way of implementing the plan; try to set the employee up for success
  • Use positive reinforcement when good behavior replaces the bad
  • Keep lines of communication open; schedule regular check-in meetings during which both the employee and you discuss challenges and recognize progress.