The Top 10 Tips for Dealing with
Employee Problem Behavior
If you've been a manager for long, you
know that things can go wrong even in the best organizations.
Problem behavior on the part of employees can erupt for a variety of
reasons. Here are ten tips for dealing with it.
that problem behavior usually has a history.
It usually develops over time and
seldom from a single incident. As a manager, it is your
responsibility to be alert to the early warning signs and deal
with the underlying causes before the situation reaches a crisis.
Yourself: "Am I partly or wholly responsible?"
You would be surprised
how frequently it is the manager who has created, or at lest
contributed to problems of employee behavior. Having and abrasive
style, being unwilling to listen, and being inattentive to the
nuances of employee behavior are all unwilling factors that
contribute to the manager's need to thoroughly examine what is
focus only on the overt behavior.
When confronted by
an angry employee, it is easy to attack the person and target the
behavior rather that examine the factors that underline the
behavior. Often, this takes patience, careful probing, and a
willingness to forgo judgment until you really understand the
attentive to the "awkward silence" and to what may be
When an employee is obviously reluctant to communicate, it is
almost a sure sign that more lurks beneath the surface. Often,
employees will withhold because they feel unsafe. They may test
the waters by airing a less severe or kindred issue in order to
see what kind of response they get. In order to get the full
story and encourage forthrightness, it is imperative that the
manager read between the lines and offer the concern and support
necessary to get the employee to open up.
before you confront.
Chances are, when an issue first surfaces, you will be given
only a fragmentary and partial picture of the problem. You may
have to dig deep to surface important facts, and talk to others
who may be involved. One safe assumption is that each person will
tend to present the case from his or her viewpoint, which may or
may not be the way it really is. Discretion and careful
fact-finding are often required to get a true picture.
- Be willing
to explore the possibility that you have contributed to the
This isn't easy, even if you have reason to believe it is so,
because you may not be fully aware of what you have done to fuel
the fire. Three helpful questions to ask yourself:
"Is this problem unique, or does it have a familiar ring as
having happened before?"
"Are others in my organization exhibiting similar
behaviors?" - and finally,
"Am I partially the cause of the behavior I am criticizing in
- Plan your
Start by defining, for yourself, what changes you would like
to see take place. You may want to consult with the EAP
(581-4014) to help you define the problem and discuss how to talk
to the employee in a way that minimizes defensiveness. Then,
follow this sequence:
(1) Tell the person that there is a
problem. State the problem as you understand it and explain why
it is important that it be resolved.
agreement that you've defined the problem correctly, and that the
employee understands it must be solved.
(3) Ask for solutions, using open-ended questions such as: "What
are you willing to do to correct this problem?" In some cases,
you may have to make it clear what you expect.
(4) Get a commitment that the employee will take the required
(5) Set deadlines for completing the actions. In the case of a
repeated problem, you may want to advise the employee of the
consequences of failing to take corrective action.
on the deadlines you've set.
- Treat the
employee as an adult and expect adult behavior.
To some extent, expectation defines the result. If you
indicate, by your actions or by the content or tone of your voice,
that you expect less than full adult behavior, that's what you're
likely to get.
interpersonal conflicts differently.
If the problem behavior stems from a personality conflict
between two employees, have each one answer these
(1) How would you describe the other person?
(2) How does he or she make you feel?
(3) Why do you feel that the other person behaves the way
(4) What might you be able to do to alleviate the situation?
(5) What would you like the other person to do in return?
agreement regarding steps to be taken and results expected.
Nothing is really "fixed" unless it stays fixed. All parties
to a dispute must agree that the steps taken (or proposed) will
substantially alleviate the problem. Further, they must agree on
what they will do.
If the results
attained are not as anticipated, this can be achieved by doing a
simple role play, i.e., having each side (including your own)
articulate the steps to be taken and the outcomes anticipated. That
way, even if subsequent events are significantly different than
expected, the lines of communication for adjusting the situation are