Hostile employees can make a work environment unpleasant. Their anger casts a pall over the office, causing other employees to walk on eggshells to avoid being the recipient of their hostility. Besides causing tension, such employees interrupt work flow, have discomfiting outbursts and are often uncooperative. Addressing their behavior is essential for the sake of the company and the people who must work with the contentious person.
Engage in minimal dialogue with the person who is behaving in a hostile manner. Refuse to argue or repeat yourself. Listen to what the employee is saying without offering your opinion. Use active listening techniques, such as nodding and paraphrasing. For example, if your employee says, "I am so sick of filling out this paperwork, copying this paperwork and filing this paperwork," you could say, "It sounds like you are tired of dealing with paperwork." After you've spent some time listening, the employee's hostile behavior might deescalate.
Document the hostile employee's behavior, even if it is covert. For example, an employee who is angry may sometimes act in a passive-aggressive manner, such as refusing to return phone calls or not acknowledging directives. This allows her to display her hostility without engaging in direct conflict. Whether the employee is overtly hostile -- yelling at colleagues, cursing or threatening -- or passive-aggressive, you should make a record of the incident.
Alert the human resources department to the problem. This not only provides you with the opportunity to get additional assistance with the problem, but offers you legal protection in the event your employee makes an illegal threat or assaults someone. Provide them with copies of your documentation, as well as any emails you exchange with the hostile employee that are relevant to her behavior.
Develop an action plan with the employee. Clearly identify specific behaviors -- such as cursing or eye-rolling -- that need to cease, and specify when you will meet again to discuss progress. If your employee becomes angry and refuses to participate in the process, don't let that stop you from making the plan. Write "refused to sign" at the bottom and place a copy in her mailbox. Keep a copy for your records and send a copy to the human resource department as well.
- If other employees make complaints about the hostile employee's behavior, let them know that you are taking them seriously and that the problem will be addressed. Employees can feel very helpless when forced to work with such a person, and knowing that you are taking a proactive role in stopping the behavior can help to quell their anxieties.
- Never terminate a hostile employee face to face alone. You might be putting yourself at risk of being physically attacked. If you decide to let the person go, talk to them by telephone or mail them a letter of termination, or hold an in-person meeting with a witness from HR.
- Hostile behavior that is directed at people on the base of race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, nationality origin, disability or age can result in your company being sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1967 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
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.