Naughty and Nice

naughty_niceWe have all dealt with a “naughty” or problem employee. Most of us can close our eyes and remember at least one person we worked with that contributed little, yet stirred up controversy and consumed a disproportionate amount of time of the human resources and management staff. They tend to be disgruntled, suspicious, and apathetic employees that have chronic attendance, performance, and disciplinary issues. Put simply, they really just want to be anywhere, but at work.

Although the naughty come in a variety of types and combinations, two key characteristics provide the most simplistic categorization: internal and external facing. The internal facing problem employee sulks and internalizes his or her anger, unhappiness, and melancholy. The perceived injustices and wrongs committed against them constantly reoccur in their mind and interfere with most other thoughts. Although the person may lash out from time to time or even seek some attention, the norm is to hide and immerse themselves in their feelings. Many times, we refer to these employees as being “broken.”

Conversely, the external type wants the world to know his or her plight and find justification for their feelings by having others “come on board” or accepting their point of view. These employees view their mission as influencing or evangelizing others to dislike certain coworkers, the leadership, or the organization as a whole as much as they do. We have all known people that want to make the world miserable if they are miserable. In the workplace, these individuals have a captive, and in some cases, sympathetic audience to cater to on a regular basis.

Regardless of the type of naughty employee, the cost and impact remains the same: reduced productivity, workplace instability, and morale. The other side of the cost pertains to the rising litigious nature of our society. As a result, avoiding litigation continues to be a constant concern of most organizations. So, what can we do?

Like many leadership challenges, we need to commit to the path we wish to follow. If we desire to have an environment where the impact of naughty employees is minimized, then we should practice the following:

• communicate your expectations for performance and attitude;
• engage employees and provide multiple methods for interaction;
• hire employees that possess the attitude, behaviors, and skills you desire;
• ensure that managers and coworkers are respectful and considerate of others;
• provide a comprehensive employee handbook that details you expectations;
• compensate employees reasonably vis-à-vis your relative market;
• address concerns promptly as they arise in order to demonstrate your commitment to a fair and positive work environment;
• create and enforce a clear attendance policy that addresses absenteeism;
• design and implement a strong performance management system that rewards our desired behaviors and outcomes;
• utilize progressive discipline to ensure that employees failing to meet expectations are warned, reported, and dismissed; and
• ensure that managers know the correct policies and procedures for dealing with problem employees.

These actions will not prevent the occurrence of naughty employees, but it should decrease the number and severity of bad behaviors. Finally, in some cases, it is simply better for the unhappy employee to leave. If the employee really does not want to be there, what is gained by keeping the person in their current job?