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Exceptional Performance Isn’t A Reason To Excuse Jerks At Work

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You know the type — employees who are simply unpleasant to be around. Their performance isn't the problem; it's their attitude that needs some work. They rarely have a nice word for co-workers. Rather, they insult them every chance they get. They complain about customers behind their backs. In fact, they complain about anything and everything under the sun. When asked a question, by either a co-worker or superior, they huff, roll their eyes, and, whether intentionally or not, make the individual feel like a child for asking the question in the first place.


Being a top performer, though, doesn't give them the right to check their professionalism at the workplace door. In fact, just how exceptional a performer is an individual if their attitude is the pits?


Without prompt intervention, jerks at work are here to stay. And don't be surprised if other employees start to mirror their bad attitude, especially given this economy in which employees are already on edge and looking for an outlet for their fears and frustrations.


Plus, a pattern of tolerating jerk-like behavior might cause a judge or jury to ask, "Why now?" when you finally address their behavior. If the employee recently filed a discrimination complaint, for example, your timing could unintentionally add fuel to the employee's legal fire.


Therefore, as soon as employees exhibit unprofessional, morale-draining behaviors, their immediate managers must:

  • Specify the unacceptable behavior. Simply telling the employee that they are "rude" or "negative" isn't enough. Communicate to them what exactly they did that is unacceptable.

  • State the expected behavior. In other words, what must the employee do differently? An employee might not realize that they huff whenever asked a question or glare when asked to stay late. Stress that an essential function of every position is to behave in a positive, cooperative, courteous, and professional manner. Then remind the employee that attitude is a performance factor. (If it currently isn't, it should be; revise performance reviews as necessary.)

  • Inform the employee that you expect to see immediate and sustained improvement, but will give them adequate time to fully transition to the expected behavior before imposing formal discipline. Reward progress, even if the employee occasionally slips up. It takes time to turn over a new leaf.

  • Stress, in no uncertain terms, the consequences of failing to adopt the expected behavior. The employee needs to realize that attitude is just as important as performance.

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