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How do I change a bad employee?

Most managers are good at managing the program, the system, or the day to day challenges. They are problem solvers extraordinaire, until it comes to people problems. When there are problem employees they usually don’t know what to say or do. These things can be taught in classes, workshops or seminars/webinars but it is not the same as applying it. It takes practice to get it right.

Here’s the key

Focus on the specific behavior. If we tell them they have a bad attitude we are not being specific enough and nothing will change. Most managers will tell the employee the bad attitude needs to change, the employee will be a bit confuse but may not question the authority or may not respond in a way that leads to identifying specific behavior. Conversely, the manager might say something like “when you addressed that boy at the event yesterday you were out of line and were not tactful with your words, which caused a complaint from the parent customer. I need you to be more tactful with your words and think before you speak harshly around employees or customers.”

Why does this work?

In this particular case you can see that addressing the specific behavior can lead to a better understanding of what can hit home with the employee. In addition, the comment went on to explain how the behavior needs to change. The more specific you can be with what a good behavior looks/sounds like the better the employee understands how they need to behave.

Other factors to consider

Everyone has their normal behavior. As supervisors we need to be aware of this fact and open-minded to people’s normal and how it might make them behave. Using the same example, let’s just say that this person was raised with a family that was always tactless. All their life that was the way they grew up. Everything around them was criticized, confounded, belittled and that is what they consider a normal everyday environment. Will they act any different at work? Why would they?

How to confront a different normal

The first step is to be accepting. Be open-minded to everyone’s normal, no matter how unusual or crude it might seem to you. The next step is to let them know you understand that behavior (mentioned specifically) may be normal where they come from, but it is not acceptable at work. Again, explain as specifically as possible what your office normal might look like (use specific examples as much as possible).

What if the behavior doesn’t change?

If you have tried all the suggestions here and nothing has changed it may well indicate you have much deeper issues. At this point your options are somewhat limited. If you have an Employee Assistance Program consider getting them some professional help. If you don’t you may have to start progressive discipline. Unfortunately, once we start progressive discipline the employee builds resentment and feels forced to conform. This is the opposite of engagement. Quite frequently called actively disengaged the employee will most likely be unproductive, have low morale, and may infect others with a toxicity that can spread like cancer. They will have one foot out the door and will probably be actively looking for another job. Their sick day call-ins will probably increase and it will only be a matter of time before they leave or you have to let them go.

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