Disruptive Employee Behavior

Emotional outbursts are disruptive and unwelcome in any professional work environment.

Emotional outbursts are disruptive and unwelcome in any professional work environment.

"I'll sue this company for everything it's got!" shouts one worker after being informed that being late is unacceptable and her hours will be cut. The next week, another employee alienates a long-time customer when she rolls her eyes after being asked to process a return. These scenarios are commonplace in many work environments, with employees -- and their supervisors -- treating others the way they would most definitely not want to be treated themselves. Disruptive behavior includes hostile tones, rude statements, shouting and a laundry list of other unpleasant actions. As the person in charge, your job is to foster positive attitudes and keep the negative in check.


A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Ethics Resource Center found that the one of the most common types of workplace misconduct observed by human resources professionals was abusive and intimidating behavior towards other employees. Large numbers of people are affected by disruptive, abusive behavior. A 2010 Workplace Bullying Institute survey found 35 percent of workers had been victims of bullying -- and this didn't include illegal forms of harassment.


The result of disruptive behavior in the workplace goes beyond the obvious unpleasantness. It can be costly, as well. Victims often spend less time at work, and when they're present, produce work of lower quality than if they worked in a more pleasant environment. Organizational commitment suffers as well. This holds true even when the behavior is more subtle than outright bullying. So the next time an employee refuses to acknowledge a greeting, stress that pro-social behavior is valued in the workplace, as simple incivility can be surprisingly disruptive.

Addressing Disruptive Behavior

When you're dealing with small instances of disruptive behavior, it is helpful to document each instance. This way, you'll have evidence when you confront your employee about his door-slamming tantrums. Simply knowing that behavior is being noticed and documented can help some disruptive employees to keep their emotions in check. If the disruptive behavior is severe -- perhaps one employee is physically threatening another -- it is appropriate to call the police. When talking to a disruptive person, do so privately and listen carefully to her concerns. Acknowledge her feelings and discuss alternatives. For your safety, position yourself so that the exit to the room isn't blocked in case the situation escalates.


The best way to prevent employees from becoming a problem in the workplace is to avoid hiring difficult people in the first place. Business expert Mark Murphy, in his book "Hiring for Attitude," points out that most new hires who fail to meet expectations on the job do so not because of a lack of skill, but because of poor emotional intelligence, motivation, temperament and other attitudinal factors. Consider rethinking your interview techniques so you'll be better able to suss out ugly attitudes before the hire. Meanwhile, get an excellent training program in place to educate employees about harassment and other disruptive behaviors. Everyone should be familiar with corporate policy and know how to report unacceptable behavior.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images