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With some employees, the problem isn't a matter of ability, it's a matter of attitude. This can manifest itself in everything from quiet disobedience to outright insubordination.

How should you respond? Rather than becoming entangled in a debate about the employee's dysfunctional attitude, address the situation strictly as a behavioral problem. That way, it's not only easier to resolve, but also a better way to make a case for dismissal.

Your first step is to document the behavior. Write down specific verbal and physical behaviors and actions that concern you, hurt team morale, damage productivity or reflect badly on the organization. Don't forget to record nonverbal behaviors, such as rolling eyes, clenching fists and staring into space.

Narrow the issue to the precise problem. Identify exactly what type of behavior the attitude has caused. This list may help:

  • Carelessness 
  • Complaining 
  • Disruptive or explosive conduct
  • Inattention to work 
  • Insensitivity to others 
  • Insubordination 
  • Laziness 
  • Negative/cynical posture 
  • Surly/inconsiderate/rude talk 
  • Excessive socializing

Record the frequency of such misconduct, plus how it affects work flow and colleagues' performance. List good business reasons why the behavior must end.

Meeting with the employee

When you sit down with employees to discuss attitude problems, try to determine whether they have a reason for their behavior. Is it a grudge against you or against the company in general? If you can't get to the root of the problem, don't think you can't resolve it.

Describe the behaviors you won't tolerate, and tell the employee firmly that those behaviors must stop. Too often, managers fail in their counseling efforts because they skip this (sometimes uncomfortable) step. Also, make sure the employee understands why the behavior must end. Explain how it's causing a problem.

Also, follow up with a description of the preferred behavior, such as cooperation, helpfulness and courteousness. Don't feel bad about being direct. Every manager has the right to demand that employees behave in a courteous and cooperative manner.

Finally, give the employee the opportunity to speak. The person may be unaware of what he or she is doing or not realize how it impedes other people's work. It may also turn out that the attitude problem is a symptom of a more serious problem that needs referral to the employee assistance program.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dick February 17, 2017 at 1:05 pm

wtffff thats bull shittt MOTHERFUCKAAAAAAA


BK August 26, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Good advice!


Ali Kinney June 17, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Linda – thank you; very helpful & valuable information in this article.
Thanks again,


Linda Cox June 16, 2016 at 11:53 pm

I am interested in articles for dealing with difficult employees


Philip Enzelherger August 11, 2016 at 7:31 pm

Perhaps try getting naked and discussing how their behavior arouses you.


Ali Kinney May 5, 2016 at 9:51 am

18 year maintenance technician/site supervisor employee, valuable skills and knowledge; flexible to work in other departments, but feels under compensated…said has not had raise in at least three years. Work load and scope has increased slightly; new paperwork requirement which he never had to do before. Also now claims his diabetes prevents him from adhering to the original job requirements. Complains constantly to everyone; insubordinate at times and uncooperative to immediate co-workers; “no one works as hard as he does”. Any suggestion for counseling session? Thank you


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