The variety of inappropriate behaviors in the workplace is seemingly endless. Some employees mass e-mail other workers naughty jokes while others spend too much time surfing the Internet looking at shoes and not tackling the paperwork that makes her desk look like a dump truck just dropped off its load. As a manager, you have the unpleasant responsibility of transforming unprofessional employees into productive workers. While there's no magic wand that does this trick, there are techniques you can employ that will help keep employees on track.
Set a tone for your office that indicates which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. For example, if you are guffawing at the behaviors portrayed in the latest episode of "South Park" before work while chowing down on doughnuts, don't be surprised when employees find it acceptable to engage in crude behavior themselves. After all, you've given your tacit approval. You don't need to be dour and humorless, but consider what messages you are sending when you laugh at behaviors you don't approve of in the workplace.
Let the offending employees know their behavior is inappropriate. You might say something like, "I have to admit it cracked everyone up when you wrapped Joe's chair in toilet paper, but this sort of prank doesn't send a professional message to our customers." Consider that employees might not realize their behavior is inappropriate. An employee who tells a customer, "Our competitor uses crappy materials," probably doesn't realize she is using language that is unprofessional.
Deal with the inappropriate behavior immediately, advises Dr. Steven Kanter in an article published in the June 2010 edition of "Academic Medicine." Such behavior can often be dealt with informally, unless issues of safety or legality are at stake. Putting off talking about unprofessional behavior merely makes for an awkward conversation later when you're saying something like "Two weeks ago, I saw you scanning your lips on the office copier..."
Make professional training opportunities available so your employees learn what is expected of them. In the long run, this is more effective than reprimanding employees when you've caught them texting during a meeting. Such training can help employees to understand acceptable standards of practice, professional ethics and policies and procedures.
Document instances of unprofessional behavior you have addressed. If you have to bring the behavior to the employee's attention again, you can pull up your documentation confirming that yes, he did call the receptionist a moron in a fit of temper over a missed phone call. Your employees will see that you mean business, and you'll have the paperwork you need should a situation escalate to the point where you must take disciplinary action beyond a talking-to.
- Contact your human resources department if the behavior continues after the offending employees have been warned. They can advise you on how next to proceed per company policy.
- Nip behaviors such as sexual harrassment or porn-viewing on workplace computers in the bud immediately. These actions can open your company up to costly lawsuits and create discomfort for other workers.
- Inappropriate joking can also result in a lawsuit if the jokes are based on race, gender, disability, age or national origin. These violate various federal anti-discrimination laws, such as 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.