“Supervising would be easy if there were no employees.” Well, at least, that’s the old joke! Most employees come to work ready and willing. Unfortunately, a few others come with negative baggage rooted in authority-figure, entitlement, or attention issues. Now the supervisor has his/her hands full.
The worst thing a supervisor can do is miss the clues or dismiss negative actions. Bad behavior often starts small. You may just chalk it up to the employee “having a bad day.” But if you don’t intervene, it will likely escalate until you have a real mess on your hands.
No one likes to confront bad behavior, but if you don’t it’ll erode your credibility and the respect of your other employees. Failure to confront emboldens bad actors. It tells them that you’re weak, afraid, impotent, or stupid.
Anyone behaving badly at work has successfully behaved badly elsewhere. That mean’s they’ve had plenty of practice, know how and when to act out “safely,” and look forward to the rewards that go with it.
Those “rewards” may not be what you think. There can be great satisfaction in just watching you squirm, undermining you with other employees, getting a lighter workload, or the chance for a juicy lawsuit.
This is a kind of supervisor bullying! You have to disarm it fast!
Don’t wait. Act!
Consider the upside: When you intervene with a bad actor, you give that employee a chance to save his/her career, not a bad legacy for a supervisor!
Bad behavior often starts with being rude or dismissive like:
- Ignoring you or conveniently “forgetting what you said”
- Failing to acknowledge a greeting or positive gesture
- Taking their time responding to your voice or e-mail
- Disregarding an assignment or disputing its due date
- Being late or not showing up for meetings and/or appointments
These behaviors can be subtle and deceptive. There will be excuses, justifications, and debate about your interpretation of their actions. No matter.
Confront them privately and immediately. You are expected to uphold company performance standards and that includes appropriate employee behaviors. Letting “little” things go will turn into bigger things.
Difficult behavior, on the other hand, disrupts the way your team operates. It may include:
- Arguing with you or disputing work assignments and processes
- Constantly questioning your decisions
- Interfering with the work of others and stirring up negativity
- Unwillingness to work with others and complaining about coworkers
You can protect yourself and, oddly enough, these employees, by having clear performance goals and behavioral standards in writing that you review with them formally and then informally when there are rough patches.
Explain to them that their disruptive behavior can cost them a poor appraisal, their raise, and potentially their job. Don’t accept any arguments. Follow through on what you say, no matter how unpleasant they get. If they quit or try to sue you, oh well! That’s why you have HR and legal resources. Don’t let your employees hold you hostage!
Insubordination—the last straw!
The crowning glory for bad actors is getting away with blatant insubordination toward you, their supervisor, by:
- Refusing to follow a direct work assignment/order
- Calling you a name in front of other employees
- Calling you a name privately, but afterward bragging about it to other employees
A lot of opportunities to address bad behavior have been missed by the time things get this far. Here is where termination or legal action is the next step, one that’s a lot more stressful and time-consuming for you than helping the employee to adopt the right behaviors early on.
Keeping ourselves in check!
Our employees know how to push our buttons. However, our job is to listen and understand what’s motivating unwanted behavior and take action to defuse it constructively. It’s not for us to own the employee’s reasons for their actions but to help them change. Our business fitness is the well we go to during tough times. It’s how we sustain the courage to lead. Please do!
Have you witnessed an employee behaving badly? How did things turn out? Your insights will make a difference.