Heather K Adams
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Content + Copy Writer

Running a business isn't easy, and neither is dealing with employees. Whether you're the manager or an owner-operator, you have a lot to think about, do and oversee on a daily basis. Dealing with an employee's bad behavior at work not only exacerbates your stress levels, but it also runs the risk of doing real damage to your business' reputation and relationships with your clients and customers. Obviously it can't be allowed to continue. But what are you supposed to do about it?

What is bad behavior in the workplace?

What is or isn't considered bad behavior in your workplace is something that will be based entirely on the context of the situation (the small picture) and the culture of your business or company (the big picture). Obviously, anything that's illegal or actually endangers your employees is very bad indeed. But beyond that, determining what's offensive, inappropriate, unprofessional or just not allowed is something you or whoever creates and enforces your code of conduct will have to decide in a way that balances both of those big and small pictures. 

For example, is your company culture relaxed enough to allow for a bit of casual swearing or the occasional dirty joke? Or does your office pride itself on maintaining a sense of professionalism above all else? Knowing your values and establishing your expectations are crucial to creating and maintaining a standard of proper behavior for all your employees.

What are examples of bad behavior?

•Offensive language. 

This can take the form of sexual, discriminatory, negative or otherwise unacceptable language.

• Offensive humor.

Be the jokes off color or overtly sexual, avoid jokes that wouldn’t be appropriate at a family dinner or similar gathering.

• Inappropriate behavior. 

This includes sexual harassment, of course, but also jockeying for position, taking credit for someone else's work or even outright sabotaging someone else's efforts. Inappropriate behavior can alienate other employees and be a detriment to your entire workplace.

• Poor work ethic.

You’re at work to do work, right? But someone with a poor work ethic means simply doesn’t want to have to put in much — or any — effort in exchange for a paycheck.

• Poor or negative attitude with customers.

Customer service is challenging, but maintaining a professional demeanor at all times is a must.

• Gossiping or encouraging a clique-ish environment.

This kind of environment excludes coworkers, or makes them feel like they have to take sides.

• Tardiness or poor attendance. 

An employee who is very often late, leaves early or straight up misses work isn't really contributing to the health or success of your business.

• Poor or negative attitude with coworkers. 

A bad attitude can include being condescending to, flirting with, berating or humiliating someone's coworkers. An employee behaving poorly in this way might constantly critique her coworkers' performance, set unreasonable expectations for her administrative staff or even persist in unencouraged flirtatious behavior with someone she works with or is in charge of.

• Bad attitude. 

An employee with a bad attitude is usually the one you have to look for, the one you have to find because they're trying to avoid doing work. When you find them and set them to a task, they complain like a cranky toddler who missed nap time. 

How to deal with bad behavior.

1. Create boundaries and guidelines.

Know what you'll allow and what you won't, and know why. Understanding what drives your desire to create a certain environment — be it to maintain a professional standard or to create an inclusive work environment — means you'll be able to communicate your expectations clearly.

2. Communicate your expectations and your standards of behavior.

Distribute a code of conduct or employee handbook, post rules, hold regular meetings about behaviors or specific topics and remember to lead by example. Make your expectations clear to all of your employees on what is and isn't allowed in your workplace. You can also have them sign an acknowledgment that they've received and/or participated in learning about these standards.

3. Be prepared to deal with inevitable bad behavior.

You should be prepared for bad behavior in the workplace because managing employees can be a lot like herding kittens — someone's bound to slip up, and warning signs will no doubt slip past your attention. Prepare yourself ahead of time by acknowledging that not every employee will always be on their best behavior and that once you're aware of the situation, you'll have to respond accordingly.

4. Practice the art of constructive confrontation.

Often, the best first step when dealing with bad behavior in the workplace, such as when an employee has a bad attitude, is just having a private talk with that employee. Someone with a bad attitude drags their feet over the smallest of assignments, is unpleasant to work with and also probably doesn't do great with customers either — none of which is okay. Have a discussion about these concerns and what's going on in their lives that may be causing this behavior, as well as your expectations for their future (improved) behavior.

5. Be prepared to discuss the issues.

Know what you want to accomplish when meeting with an employee displaying bad behavior in the workplace before you meet. Be prepared to explain to them the specifics of the situation, your concerns and what you expect to see moving forward. Confrontation like this can be difficult, and feeling prepared is an easy way to boost your confidence.

6. Utilize the "write up."

When having a private conversation with an employee, you may find it necessary to reinforce your verbal warning without a written one. Issuing a warning or placing an official write on an employee's performance record is a common method employed to curtail and punish inappropriate behavior. For example, someone with a poor work ethic, who deliberately avoids doing anything productive or whose work is always sloppy, may need that ding on their record (and a reminder of further consequences) to motivate them to behave better.

7. Create a structured system of further punishments.

Clearly post this system in the handbook, as well as somewhere all employees can access, like in a break room. A system of disciplinary measures not only further communicates your standards and expectations, but it also gives you support when dealing with an awkward or high-emotion situation. Having that structured back up to rely on will make dealing with bad behavior in the workplace just a little bit easier.

8. Enforce disciplinary measures consistently.

Show that you're serious about what is and isn't bad behavior at work, as well as what the consequences are. Warnings, reprimands, unpaid days off or another kind of suspension, outright termination...you need to draw the line and then enforce it consistently. Inconsistency will tell your employees that they can sometimes get away with things, if they're sneaky enough or if they curry favor with the boss. And that's a quick road to a severely under-disciplined organization.

9. Create courses around topics of professionalism.

You can't expect everyone to just know what you mean by "maintain a professional demeanor" or "avoid unacceptable behavior," as your employee handbook may state. So take the reins and educate your employees. Bring in presenters or create courses on topics around professionalism. Then there should be no excuse for any subsequent poor behavior.

10. Keep your standards up to date.

What was okay last year may not be quite up to snuff this year — and this is as true of dress codes as it is standards of behavior. Get in the habit of evaluating your standards for bad behavior at work, adapting them to changes in policy and revising them because of situations you might have encountered and previously had to deal with on the fly. New situations can set precedents for operating and moving forward. Just make sure to keep your employees well informed about policy updates and changes.

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About the Career Expert:

Heather Adams has designed (and re-designed) many business cards. She also writes, makes pictures & creates little notes. As a content creator, she believes that the art of business is storytelling. From brand work to writing the copy that converts, the power of good storytelling is what builds success. Follow her work here.

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