While bad behavior is no surprise in the schoolyard, people are expected to know how to conduct themselves once they're in the workplace. This isn't always the case, however. If you are in the unenviable position of having to deal with an employee’s bad behavior, the way you tackle the problem can make a major difference. By confronting the problem swiftly and effectively, you can fix the problem and improve the functioning of your workplace environment.
Build trust. Bad behavior stems from a lack of trust, suggests businessman and author Timothy Bednarz – particularly if the bad behavior in question relates to the employee refusing to work with others or continually arguing with his colleagues. To remedy this issue, engage all of your workers in trust-building exercises to bolster confidence in each other. Once your oh-so-hard-to-work-with employee starts to trust her co-workers, the behavior may magically disappear.
Model good behavior. The worst thing you can do as a leader in the business world is adopt a “do as I say, not as I do,” attitude. Before you consider penalizing someone for bad behavior, make sure that nothing you do in the workplace is similarly inappropriate. If, for example, you are concerned about a water cooler gossiper, you must first make sure that you aren’t guilty of spreading some gossip as well. If you find upon introspection that you are, change your behavior first to avoid the never-pleasant label of hypocrite.
Take action along the way. While it may seem logical to allow complaints to accrue before handing out a punishment, this isn’t the best option. Just like you can’t put a child in timeout for pulling his classmate's hair the day prior, you can’t wait to hand out punishments if you want them to be effective. Hand out small sanctions, such as formal write-ups or partial days off work without pay, immediately after the behavior to target the sanction to the problem behavior.
Follow up post-punishment. Will one corrective action completely eliminate the bad behavior that has you pulling your hair out? Probably not. Don’t be so naive as to think that a simple stand-alone sanction will get your employee heading down the straight and narrow. Instead, set weekly meetings post-sanction to revisit the issue and update the employee as to your interpretation of her recent behavior. At these weekly sit-downs, praise the employee for efforts she has made to improve her behavior and continue to provide actionable suggestions, telling her what she needs to do to be a model employee and avoid future sanctions.
Remain open to productive concerns. Just like a child who acts out in anger because his teacher won’t listen to him when he tells her that Sarah put paste in his hair, your workers will be more likely to engage in bad behavior if they don’t see you as a trusted sounding board. To reduce the likelihood that bad behavior will persist or reappear, make it clear to your employees that you are there to support them and that you want to hear of their frustrations before they act out as a result of them.
Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.