University of Washington researchers have established that a "bad apple" really does cause team conflict, bad feelings and poor performance. Here are some ways managers can handle the situation.
If an employee performs all of his or her duties as expected, it can be difficult to bring up an invisible "bad attitude." If he or she isn't performing up to expectations, it may be easier. In any case, though, it's increasingly important to get to the root of the behavior and put an end to it before it spills over to teammates.
Gary Vikesland, on employer-employee.com, offers seven tips for managing difficult employees:
1. Observe, describe and quantify the negative behavior. For example, "Last week, I saw you tell four employees that they should resist participating in continuous improvement events." Distinguish between true negative behaviors and what may be positive contributions that are simply delivered poorly.
2. Get support. Talk to another manager or your HR department to validate your feeling that the employee's behaviors create a problem, and include another manager in any closed-door meeting you have with the employee.
3. Don't expect apologies. Your aim is to let the employee know that you are aware of their actions and expect improvement. In some cases, the employee may be unaware of their actions' effect; in others, the employee may not care about the negative effects.
4. Affirm the organization's mission, values and goals, and explain why change is needed for both the individual and the organization to succeed.
5. Ask what would help change the employee's negative behavior. If he or she is going through a personal difficulty offer a reminder about your employee assistance program or that a trusted HR representative can refer them to outside resources. (Always inform HR and your manager if drug, alcohol or mental health issues surface.) If the issue is purely work-related, try to provide coaching and mentoring.
6. Explain that future performance reviews will include observations of negative behaviors, but that you will also be looking for behaviors that support the team's goals. Give the employee examples of better actions to take or ways to deliver their messages.
7. Keep your cool and be positive. Employees want managers to believe in them, so end your talk with a "you can do it" statement.
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