What to do if your employee has a bad attitude (and take control of the situation)

7th February 2018

Why is it that some employees think it’s ok to have a bad attitude at work?

They think it’s acceptable to turn up late, not reply to your emails, or make frequent errors with no apology.

Even worse, they have a ‘tone’ which is simply rude and disrectful. I mean you’re their boss. Because of you they can afford to put food on the table!!!

If you manage this person (or work with one), it’s understandable if you think they should be fired. After all, it can be a huge drain of time and energy to manage. It can also be bewildering if they’ve always been such a star employee in the past, and it can start to affect team morale and customer service, and ultimately the bottom line.

This is often a tricky one for many employers to know how to handle, particularly if it’s the first time you’ve been faced with this. Some people rise to the bait and replicate this bad attitude (not great, but we’re human after all). Others put their head in the sand and don’t do anything.

Regardless of what the behaviour is and how it’s presenting itself, the number one most important thing is that it MUST be tackled. The worst thing is to leave it, hoping it will work itself out on its own. Take my word for it that it often needs an intervention to resolve it. Here’s some answers to common questions I get and some tips to help it manage this effectively, and avoid it becoming an issue in future.

Why is my employee behaving like this?

There could be many reasons why your employee has developed a bad attitude, and it might not actually be anything to do with the job. It could be that the person is going through a particularly difficult time outside of work – whether because of relationship issues, family pressures, debt, or dependency of some sort – and unfortunately, the effects of this are spilling over into work.

The other scenario is that the employee has started to resent their job for some reason. Perhaps they’ve grown bored with their work, or they’re upset that a co-worker has been given a pay increase and they haven’t, or perhaps they feel they’ve been overlooked for promotion, or they’ve fallen out with a colleague they used to get on well with.

How to take control of this situation

You need to find out what is really going on here and this is going to involve you having an open and honest conversation with the person. I’d advise you to plan what you’re going to say in advance and how you’re going to say it. Make notes. Be very specific on what the issues are. Get examples and facts if you can, for example the number of occasions of lateness, or the actual emails the person hasn’t responded to. Choose a private space to meet in and a suitable time of the working day, perhaps close to the end of the day.

Explain to the person what behaviour you’re seeing at work and describe the detrimental impact it’s having. Try to keep your language positive. Your aim is to encourage the person to open up about what’s going on, rather than them become defensive and confrontational.

If circumstances outside of work are causing this poor attitude, then your tendency might be to be lenient and overlook the behaviour to some degree because you want to be kind. Of course, listen and offer support where you can, particularly if this is a valued, long-term employee. Remember though that you have a business to run, and it is possible to be supportive of the person and their circumstances, but still have a reasonable expectation that their attitude needs to be improved.

However, it could be that they have no reasonable explanation and perhaps they don’t really care about their behaviour. If this is the case you’ll need to be very clear on what your expectations are, what improvement you’re expecting and by when, and hold follow-up review meetings with them to check progress.

There are added benefits of calling the employee out on this. It sends a helpful message to the rest of the team that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable and won’t be tolerated. It also shows them that you care what the working atmosphere is like for everyone and that you are confident and capable of taking action.

What happens if this approach doesn’t work?

What I’ve outlined is an informal approach, and most workplace issues can be resolved via informal means. Sometimes an honest conversation and a ‘heads up’ is all it takes from an employer for the employee to show the improvement you need to see. Occasionally, it doesn’t work quite like this and a more formal approach might be necessary, which is when you will need to consider actioning your company’s disciplinary procedure or seeking HR Advice.

Top tips to avoid this becoming an issue in future

  • Having regular one-to-ones makes it easier to nip any issues in the bud as they arise
  • Consider how you reward your employees and whether you could implement an employee incentive scheme to place emphasis on the behaviour you want to encourage
  • Get comfortable with giving honest feedback
  • Consider giving your employees access to an employee assistance programme so they can discuss confidential personal matters


What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


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