Employee Behavior Troubling You? Time to Intervene.

path 126441045_0121483a49_m“What you resist, persists.” Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist/psychotherapist, is credited with this powerful quote.

If more supervisors followed it, fewer problems would develop on their watch.  Sadly, most don’t.


Balancing acts.

Supervisors are busy. Some even overwhelmed.

They’re like the circus act where someone spins a plate on the end of a stick, puts it on his head, then takes two more sticks with plates and spins them in each hand.

No applause if the plates fall off…only sad sounding oohs from the crowd and maybe a boo from someone feeling mean.

Supervisors dread noise that doesn’t sound like attaboy or attagirl. Their job is to build a work group where employees keep lots of plates spinning, in spite of interruptions, faulty sticks, or a lapse in concentration.

Supervisors are continually on red alert for the material stuff that can disrupt performance:

  • Equipment needing repair
  • Technology flaws
  • Processes that break down
  • Cost overruns

They often see their job as running interference to avoid plates falling off sticks, when their most important job is to provide clear, consistent direction and behavioral standards to employees.

When employees know what is expected, they can do their best work. However, they don’t know if they’re meeting your expectations unless you tell them.

And you can’t tell them if you don’t pay attention to how they are working and acting. Or if plates 2333375431_5857d7e3f3_myou pull the covers over your head. (Crash go the plates!)

All behavior matters.

In general, supervisors don’t like to confront employees about problematic behavior, particularly when it seems incidental.

They chalk it up to:

  • A bad day or a slight misstep
  • A brain cramp
  • No big deal
  • Typical of “their” generation

Until, of course, you end up with a pattern, a full-blown employee problem that’s taking a toll. Your employees start looking at you with the unspoken question: “Why are you letting this happen?”

Crash go the plates!

Problematic employee behavior is a gift that keeps on giving if you don’t intervene early. Three typical categories are:

1. Testing the rules

  • Periodically arriving late to work for legitimate sounding reasons
  • Coming back “a little late” from lunch or breaks
  • Missing meetings here and there
  • Not reporting off as required

2. Reliability and dependability

  • Not completing/submitting work on time
  • Failing to communicate project status and/or needs
  • Finding reasons not to support coworkers
  • Making excuses

 3. Interpersonal conduct

  • Way of speaking to coworkers (harsh, demanding, critical)
  • Negative body language, one-on-one or in groups
  • Impatience, bullying, resistance
  • Gossiping, nay-saying, over-socializing

Signs of these behaviors usually surface within the first three months after a new employee joins the work group.

When a supervisor takes over a new group, those behaviors have already taken root.

Job one is to take inventory of how each employee is conducting him/herself, assess what is positive and what isn’t, and immediately have a sit down.


The longer you wait to confront unwanted or problematic behavior, the worse it will become and the more misery it will bring to your job as supervisor. What you resist, persists!

The earlier you call attention to what you don’t want, the easier your employee discussions will go:

  • Employees will know what you see and don’t want. That may be enough for them to change without further action.
  • You obtain a commitment for behavior changes which will launch improvement.
  • A dialogue starts, so you and your employee can get in a helpful performance feedback loop together.
  • Employees will recognize your commitment to fairness and a positive culture.

Good supervisors are teachers. Their primary role is to let each employee know what it takes to be successful in his/her job and how to contribute to the work group’s success.

It’s a lot easier to keep the plates spinning when everyone holding the sticks operates in a constructive work environment where they feel confident, safe, and understood.

Early intervention when employees are out of sync with your expectations positions everyone for a winning performance.

Opening photo by Polpulox !!! via Photoree                   Plate Photo by fonso via Photoree

Caught in a Mess at Work? 3 Ways to Get Untangled. | Avoiding Drama

It’s easier to complicate things than to keep them simple. That’s why most of us periodically find ourselves in a mess at work.untangled 3632105088_bdaf9ebab1_m

There comes a time when we realize that we’re:

  • Too aligned with the wrong coworkers
  • At odds with our boss
  • Parked in the wrong job
  • Part of a doomed project

Situations like these creep up on us.

Pay attention.

Each day we’re faced with decisions and options that take us down one path or another, usually believing we’re advancing our careers not putting them at risk.

I’ll write it here again: Things are rarely what they seem, and that’s especially true at work. The closer you are to where the real work gets done, the farther away you are from the decisions and decision-makers affecting the organization’s direction.

The less you really know, the more careful you need to be about your choices. This is why developing business savvy is so important.

We often make a mess our of careers by getting tangled up with the wrong people or by putting ourselves in places where we can’t meet expectations.

Here are a couple examples:

  • You get hired by a boss who once worked with you as a staff professional and where you were also friends.  Now you’re expected to  support his wrong-footed policies. If you buck the boss,  you lose all around.
  • You’re new on the job and the boss isn’t training you. You turn to coworkers for help which they give gladly along with their “rules” for getting along, so there are no “problems.” In time you realize that you’re in the wrong camp.
  • You eagerly accepted a role on an important project team to gain some visibility for your technical talents. The forceful team leader has a predetermined result she’s promoting. You realize that her basic premise is wrong, the team is going in the wrong direction, and the result is going to be a bust with your name on it.

We get ourselves into these situations through our own naiveté. As much as we want to be optimistic about opportunities, we need to stop and weigh the potential downsides.

5 ways to disentangle

It is much easier to get situations tangled up than to untangle them. (If you’ve ever tried to get the knots out of a necklace or a fishing line, you know.)

When you need to extricate yourself from a complicated  situation at work,  consider these approaches:

  1. Avoid getting in deeper: Assess the people and/or decisions that are exacerbating the problem and figure out how to start distancing yourself from them. That may mean changing the way you communicate, reducing personal (not professional) sharing, and developing relationships with others who represent your viewpoints.
  2. Resist the “lures”: Step away from the temptations that may have drawn you to the situation in the first place like special access to the boss, the need to make “friends” with everyone, associations with “big” players, and egoism. Instead, refocus on doing your best work for the right reasons, even it if means accepting a short term setback.
  3. Plan and activate an escape plan: When you’re in a mess, you have to get out of it, slowly and carefully in most cases. This takes careful planning and a bit of finesse. You may need to craft a special bit of face-to-face communication, build new alliances, reduce your level of involvement, and/or make a big break. It all depends on the severity of the mess and the risk it imposes on you over time.

The worst thing you can do is nothing. The longer you stay in a bad situation, the more you risk increasingly dire consequences, the worst of which is feeling trapped and helpless.

Avoid drama.

The best thing you can do for your career is to avoid pointless drama caused by unhealthy entanglements. It only adds stress and needless complexity to the work you’ve been hired to do. Each time you’re given a career opportunity, first ask yourself, “What am I really getting myself into?” That should help you take the right step and avoid troublesome drama.

Photo from framelius via Flickr

Insensitive, Divisive, or Self-Serving? Taking on Problem Behaviors | “You” Power

You experience them. You may even mention them–things that are done and said at work that aren’t right.513020382_756c859892_m

We don’t do our jobs in a vacuum. We have to interact with others. The attitudes and behaviors of our bosses, coworkers, and customers contribute to the culture of the workplace. They make it  consistently positive, negative, or a bit of both.

So what happens when you see and hear insensitive, divisive, or self-serving words and actions that don’t sit well with you? Do you:

  • Keep silent (a signal of consensus)?
  • Report it to the boss or HR for action?
  • Complain to coworkers who feel as you do?
  • Take action in your own way?

The power to affect change comes from within you. It takes a plan and committed, sustained action. The power of “you” can be formidable.

“You” Power

We often think that only management can fix what’s wrong with a company’s culture, even  when they’re a part of the problem.

We may think that sexism, bullying, antagonism between labor and management, and an everyone-for-themselves performance mentality are behaviors we have to learn to live with.

Sadly, that’s why these behaviors continue and escalate.

We all have positive role models we try to emulate. Now it’s our turn to be that positive example at work,  one day at a time.

We can each contribute to turning negative behaviors around by:

  • Becoming a conscience for what is right
  • Setting an example by what we say and do

It’s not for us to get on a soapbox necessarily, but simply to intervene, one-on-one in most cases, to call attention to a more positive way to communicate and act.

Consider personal objectives like these:

1. ) Increase awareness of language and actions that have overtones

When you hear language that’s sexist or ethnically insensitive, suggest a more appropriate  choice of words to the individual speaking or writing. Suggest that certain assignments be balanced between women and men.

In the hurry of the workplace, some coworkers may not be aware of the stereotypes they are promoting through their speech and assignments. Serving as a conscience has real power.

2.) Refuse to gossip

There’s always news that spreads throughout the workplace, but much of it can be hearsay, personal, undermining, and counterproductive. When we listen to or contribute to gossip, we become its agent.

Each time we decline to participate and offer our rationale for why, we influence one or more coworkers. That may lead to some to gossip about us, but it sets the right example, furthers your cause, and may also counteract some bullying.

3.) Discourage “us” v. “them” attitudes

Blaming can become rampant in organizations. It can target employees (us) versus management (them), employees in one group versus those in another, or you versus someone who, you believe, has made you look bad. Nothing good comes from blaming.

If you  believe in personal accountability, as I do, then you can wield personal power by always owning the outcomes of your work, being unwilling to enter into the blame game, and expecting others to also own their work. When they don’t, that’s an opportunity for you to raise their awareness.

4.) Quell complaining and venting

If coworkers know you will listen to their complaints, they will continue to unload on you. If, when they start, you say you’re too pressed for time to listen or call attention to what they did to create the issue, they will likely stop.

A great many complainers fill their days dumping their load on anyone who will listen. If you reduce their audience by one, others may follow suit.

A matter of time

 Making a difference takes time. The more ingrained the insensitive, divisive, and self-serving behavior, the more difficult it is to change. You have it in your power to influence other people. Whether it’s one or many, it just matters that you do what you can to have an affect.

Every action you take has the potential to inspire someone else to follow your lead or tap into their own “you” power. What could be better?

Photo from F-2 via Flickr


Supervising a Bad Apple? Consider Making Applesauce | Handling Problem Employees

“A rotten apple spoils the whole barrel,” it’s said. That means someone let one bad apple rot. Who?

Sadly, I’ve heard plenty of supervisors whine about problem employees and then, by doing nothing, let them spoil the work environment and their careers too. There’s no excuse for this.

Apple analysis

Supervisors are responsible for all the apples allocated to them.

Not every apple is crisp and shiny. Some have dark spots from bruises. Others have shriveled from their time in the barrel. A small number are decaying under the weight of the other apples.

So we need to pick through the barrel and:

  • Put the good ones in the frig so they’ll last
  • Turn the bruised ones into applesauce or pies
  • Discard the truly rotten ones

This way we save most of the lot, getting full value from it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to “bad apple” employees, the first inclination by many supervisors is to come up with a plan to “throw them out.”

They use strategies like:

Passing the buck: The supervisor tells HR the employee is simply a bad fit and asks them to find the employee a job in another department.

Building a case: The supervisor starts to “keep book” on the employee, logging every performance and behavioral misstep, negative impacts on coworkers, complaints about them, and “potentially dire consequences” to the company if retained.

Driving them out: The supervisor makes the employee’s life as miserable as possible by either ignoring or constantly confronting them, nitpicking, reassigning work they like, and creating a no-win environment until the employee can’t take it anymore.

In these scenarios there will never be applesauce or pie.

Giving every apple a chance

Remember those bruised apples and the shriveled ones? Part of a supervisor’s job is to preserve them.

Here are some approaches:

Stop using the label: Whether you’ve hired or inherited a” bad apple,” stop using that label to describe him/her. It’s a negative that stokes dislike, fosters bias, and blackens their good points

Get over your dislike: Take your emotions out of the equation. Your job is to direct, correct, motivate, communicate, and provide feedback that will turn unacceptable behavior around.

Focus on actions: Discipline yourself to deal objectively with your employee’s actions and his/her  impact on the company and coworkers. What you see and hear is what matters, not what you suppose or interpret.

Insist on improvement: Provide specific feedback on areas of improvement, options for achieving it, and milestones to be met. Create clear accountability for making improvements in work output and relationships, with stated consequences if not attained.

Do what you say: Be trustworthy by delivering on your commitments to support  the employee’s improvement initiatives and on the actions you’ll take if they don’t turn around.

Employees who have successfully become bad apples stay that way because they’re getting what they want.  Unfortunately, for some, it’s a badge of honor that they flaunt. Some may be bullies, slackers, or malcontents.

The truth is that some of these employees have gotten themselves in a “negative identity” box they can’t get out of. Sometimes it just takes an effective supervisor to do what’s needed to help them get onto a better path.

Consider all the “bad apple,” ” bad actor” athletes who bounce from one team to another, until there’s that one coach who turns them around. There are examples everywhere that supervisors can follow.

Bad apple employees aren’t usually any happier in that role deep down than the supervisors who have to deal with them.

At least make applesauce

It’s easy to look into the barrel, see one rotten apple, and decide to throw them all out. No business can sustain that and no supervisor can justify it. Our job is to get the best out of our employees, recognizing that all of us have flaws that, if ignored, can be ruinous.

We need to deal with every employee in an open and fair way, helping them to realize their full potential. Perhaps they’ll thank you for helping them with a shiny red apple.

Photo from t1nytr0n via Flickr

When You’ve Had Enough, How Far Should You Go? | Managing Emotions

No one likes criticism or unfair treatment. Most of us just suck it up until one day we’ve had enough. Then watch out!

Think twice

Knee-jerk reactions never pay. When we’re fed up, we need to keep our wits about us. Most of the time, we’re reacting to situations that have been brewing.

I’m a big proponent of not becoming a doormat for anyone at anytime. We’re entitled to respect and fair treatment, both of which we need to stand up for in the right way at the right time.

I’m also a big proponent of understanding the consequences of the actions we want to take. Too often, however, people let their emotions get the best of them, shooting themselves in both feet.

If you choose to act on a workplace issue, you may be, at the very least:

  • Implicating your boss who is responsible for the work environment
  • Subjecting your performance history to review in light of the issue
  • Challenging the company’s practices and their overseers like HR
  • Setting up your motives and credibility for dissection

These daunting considerations are intended to sober your emotions not negate the legitimacy of your issue.

I’m a passionate believer in doing what’s right and fair. But we shouldn’t  be stupid about it.

A clear head, an understanding of workplace realities, and a good plan set you up to do what needs to be done. A little internal leverage with influential people doesn’t hurt either.

Know what you want

Just getting your issue noticed isn’t enough. If you’re going to stir the pot be specific about the remedy you want.

Here are two interesting cases:

My client, Annette, from a Fortune 100 company was promoted to lead a work group in another state while she maintained a home office. The prior manager had built a culture of favorites; that manager was now Annette’s new boss. The perceived loss of “favorite” status by one employee resulted in a public outburst during a workshop that included insults aimed at Annette. She turned the matter over to HR: Disciplinary action followed.

Impacts: Annette’s new boss felt the sting and so did the punished employee. Other employees assessed the situation through their respective lenses. HR validated Annette’s action, noting, however, that this was a severe step considering how new Annette was to the position. Will there be subsequent fallout? Time will tell. In this case, Annette had everything documented and took swift action. She was willing to risk backlash because setting a standard of professional conduct mattered to her. What would you have done?

Next there’s Victor who was receiving poor performance reviews from a boss who didn’t like his approach to handling complex technical projects. Victor saw his boss as uncommunicative, a poor leader, and politically motivated. Victor’s reviews got progressively worse; he was put on notice to improve or else. He wanted to defend himself by reporting his boss to HR or anyone who would listen. He considered suing. Ultimately, Victor was terminated..

Impacts: Taking on the boss would mean proving that each aspect of Victor’s negative evaluation was wrong and making a case that the boss had something against him. If Victor successfully makes the “bad boss” case to the company, chances are no other manager there would want Victor. If he could manage to negate the performance criticisms, he would likely end up pointing an accusing finger at some coworkers, creating bad blood. To sue the company would leave a permanent mark on Victor that could be an obstacle for future jobs. Victor chose to move on. What would you have done?

Remember, it’s business.

Our emotions can cause us to do reckless things. When it comes to our jobs, caution makes more sense. It may feel great for the moment to tell the boss to “take this job and..,” but that only gives the control back to him or her.

We need to know how to size up each situation, identify our options, and chose the one that’s going to help us get what we want or cut our losses. Please, keep it together, okay?

Photo from Roberto Kaplan Designs via Flickr


Use “Snapshots” Not Potshots to Wake Up “Problem Employees”

It’s kind of an eerie label—“problem employee.” With supervisors it usually means, “I have someone working for me who isn’t with the program.”

Then what they often fail to admit is: “I don’t know what to do to turn him/her around.” 

So, what’s the problem? 

In most cases, the problem is around employee behavior—their approach, conduct, interpersonal relationships, and way of communicating. It’s that dreaded “soft stuff” that supervisors often feel helpless to address. 

I’m sure you’ve heard supervisors say things like: 

  • That guy/gal has a rotten attitude.
  • All I ever hear is complaining.
  • I’m sick of always being second-guessed.
  • S/he turns people off at my meetings.
  • No one wants to work with him/her. 

Typical supervisor reaction to these “problem employees” falls into four buckets: 

  • Call them out privately and/or publicly—taking potshots
  • Avoiding contact—hiding from them
  • Acquiescing to their wants—giving in
  • Bad-mouthing them to others–seeking sympathy

These actions change nothing, embolden the employee to continue their behavior, and cause the “good” employees to question their supervisor’s ability to lead. 

The fix: Take camera-less “snapshots” 

It’s not that supervisors don’t want to deal with problem employees: They often don’t know how and are fearful that what they’ll try may make matters worse. Because they don’t have steps to follow, they hope the situation will get better on its own. It won’t. 

To address employee behavior from an objective point of view, you have to start with a little self-directed pep talk scripted like this: 

  • The problem is NOT about me but about my employee’s behavior.
  • His/her behavior is a “problem” because it has a negative effect on my team.
  • The problem behavior can be changed if the employee wants to.
  • It’s the employee’s obligation to make those changes and mine to support their efforts as appropriate.
  • There will be consequences if the employee doesn’t make needed changes.
  • My goal is to help the employee and enable him/her to get on the right track. 

Here is a 10 step process to address the problem: 

  1. Get it clear in your head which specific behavior(s) concern you.
  2. Identify the situations where the employee’s behavior can be observed.
  3. Position yourself to observe the behavior personally: at a meeting, around coworker conversations, and in team settings.
  4. Listen and watch what takes place. Take a mental “snapshot” of the scene, capturing exact words said, tone of voice, reactions, body language, and impact.
  5. Write down these observed “facts,” including the date and a brief description of the situation. Repeat this process over about a two week period, noting patterns.
  6. Schedule a meeting with the “problem” employee. Affirm what is positive about his/her work and express your concern about the behaviors you are seeing.
  7. Illustrate your statements by describing the specifics of the situations you observed
  8. Ask the employee how s/he saw or interpreted the situation. Help him/her understand your perspective.
  9. Explain that you need him/her to make changes. Ask what s/he intends to do. Explain that you are there to support his/her efforts. Ask for a written plan.
  10. Schedule regular meetings to revisit his/her efforts, while continuing your own observations until there is clear evidence that the behavior has been corrected. 

Most employees will tell you that they had no idea they were having a negative affect and will be relieved to know that you are there to help them turn things around. There are a few who won’t change, so you may have to take steps to release them. Your written “snapshots” documentation can help provide needed justification. 

Polish up your lens 

Intervening when there’s a problem is a test of our caring. If people don’t know they’re messing up and we let them continue to do it, we fail them. When we look through our lens to create a picture for them, we provide the clarity they need to improve. What better gift is that! 

Have you dealt with a problem employee? What behavior was the problem? How did it get resolved? Thanks for commenting!

Employee from Hell or the Gold Standard? What Supervisors See In Us | Self-Awareness As Asset

Sometimes we forget that our jobs aren’t just about us. Sure we’re doing the work, but we’re doing it to meet the expectations of:

  • Our supervisor
  • Our supervisor’s supervisor
  • The company that’s paying us 

We’re hired to get things done, keep things moving, bring new ideas, engage with others, collaborate, make the most of our talents, and get better.

Now look around. Is that what you see people doing where you work? Is that what you’re doing?

Imagine supervising yourself! 

We don’t always see ourselves the way others see us. We may think that we’re doing everything our supervisor wants and then one day we find out we were wrong. That’s usually not a very good day!

Whether it shows or not, your supervisor really wants you to be successful. Why? Because when you are, s/he is too.

Your supervisor also wants you to be low maintenance. S/he doesn’t want to deal with drama, trivial complaints, misbehavior, and careless work.

Supervisors simply want to be able to count on us. They want to know that when they talk to us, we’ll be reasonable, even when we disagree. They want us to be approachable and flexible, accommodating and communicative.

Is this you? Are you sure?

Time to take stock. 

Let’s try a little self-assessment. Respond to each item below with “always,” “sometimes,” or “never.”

  • I am on time for work, meetings, and with deadlines.
  • I don’t make excuses or blame others for my mistakes.
  • I accept assignments without complaint or signs of distaste.
  • When I don’t understand, I ask for clarification before acting.
  • I am truthful, honest, and ethical.
  • I can be counted on to pitch in when needed.
  • I work collaboratively and cooperatively with others.
  • I don’t undermine my supervisor or stir the pot with my coworkers.
  • I follow company rules, standards, and processes.
  • I am pleasant, good-humored, and level-headed. 
  • I suggest realistic, innovative, and helpful ideas and solutions.

The more “always” answers, the greater your chances of being considered a “gold standard” employee.

Now here’s a next step if you really want to know how you stack up: Ask your supervisor to respond to each item. Then compare results together and talk about the ones you answered differently.

This is one good way to create a positive connection. You’ll show your supervisor that meeting expectations matters to you and your supervisor will recognize you as an ally.

See yourself through a supervisor’s lens. 

Most supervisors would give up a highly skilled worker with a rotten attitude for someone with lesser skills and a great attitude.

This should come as no surprise: Supervisors can teach us how to improve our skills, but they can’t fix our attitude, only we can do that!

A supervisor’s job is about problem-solving day in and day out.  As employees, the last thing we want to do is be a problem or create one.

We do ourselves and our supervisors a big favor every time we anticipate a potential problem and suggest a solution, solve a problem before it gets out of hand, or turn a problem into an opportunity.

Attitude is everything!

It doesn’t take much for a bad actor to turn our workplace into hell on earth. Employee attitude issues are the bane of every supervisor and consume ridiculous amounts of their time and energy. We never want that employee to be us!

Business fitness is what we, as employees, bring to our jobs so we can be a help not a hindrance to our supervisors and the companies that hire us. To be seen as an asset, a partner, and a trusted colleague is the look that flatters us all!

Do you have an experience with a truly “awful” employee or coworker? What was his/her impact? Your insights will be fascinating!