The Manager’s Guide to Handling Bad-Attitude Employees

Get free instant access to The Manager’s Guide to Handling Bad-Attitude Employees so your team leaders know how to change negative behaviors and get troublesome workers back on track. You’ll learn:

  • The ABC Method to address bad attitutdes
  • The one thing you should NEVER say to an employee who has a bad attitude
  • Why you can’t fix a bad attitude, and why trying to is counterproductive

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If your organization is like most, your managers have a few people with really bad attitudes. It’s tempting to just terminate these employees, but sometimes troublesome workers are good at what they do and you’d hate to lose them.

The cost of inaction is high. Employees with a “bad attitude” poison the team, decrease productivity and hurt morale.

How the A.B.C. model works

  • Characterize the general Attitude that is impairing performance. Ask, “What feelings and beliefs are getting in the way of this person’s performance?”
  • Identify the specific Behaviors that are symptoms of that attitude. Ask, “What did the person actually do?” Enter a description of each negative behavior into a log over a period of a week or two, or perhaps longer.
  • Tie those behaviors to the negative Consequences. Ask yourself, “Why do these behaviors hurt our organization?” and “What will happen to the employee if he or she doesn’t eliminate them?”

Document the ABC points in a memo. Give a copy to the employee and keep a copy in their file. Next, hold a one-on-one meeting to discuss the specific issues outlined.

The one thing you should never say when confronting problem employees

The impulse of most managers is to brand “bad-attitude” employees with this generalized label – “Pal, you’ve got a baaad attitude and better change it fast.” It feels good to say that. It’s an emotional release. But it’s the one thing your managers should never do. These employees heard that line from parents, teachers and bosses all their lives and they’re proud to wear the label. They think it says, “I’m the rebel, the defiant one who stands up and says what no one else dares say.”

A manager can’t change an employee with a bad attitude because it reflects a deeply held belief that’s embedded in their personality. And in a perverse sort of way, it works. Problem is, it doesn’t work for your managers. They need to confront ‘bad-attitude’ employees, not with a general assessment of the “us-vs.-them” attitude – which sounds permanent and may be unchangeable – but with direct feedback about specific unacceptable behaviors that your managers can frame as temporary and possibly changeable.

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What managers should not do when meeting with ‘bad-attitude’ employees

  • Don’t get into a debate about what bad-attitude employees said or did not say. You’re not meeting to rehash the details covered in the memo. You’re meeting to discuss what needs to change.
  • Don’t argue about whether the things they said are harmful. It’s not debatable. Tell them so with total conviction and move on to the next issue.
  • Don’t discuss aversion to authority. Deep psychological reasons drive their feelings and the vast majority of your managers are not psychologists. Maintain a narrow focus on their actions, and why they hurt the company.

What managers should do

  • DO make it clear that this isn’t personal. You represent the company. He’s hurting the company with his behavior. That’s what you care about.
  • DO tell them you want to help him save his job and become a productive member of the team. And make it clear that 1) you can’t help him if he doesn’t make some big changes; and 2) it’s totally up to him.
  • DO stress the “temporary” and “changeable” nature the specific behavior (as opposed to the “permanent” nature of attitude). In other words, you’re not asking the employee to change who he is. You’re asking him to change what he does.
  • DO ask the employee if he understands exactly what you’re telling him. Before ending the meeting, say, “Why don’t you tell me in your words what’s the issue here.” Listen carefully to make sure he got the message, understands that the ball is in his court, and realizes that he’ll be fired if he doesn’t change his behavior.

Give your managers and supervisors a tool to help them confront “bad attitude” employees now. Get free access to The Manager’s Guide to Handling ‘Bad-Attitude’ Employees

Summing up what we have learned

  • Manager can’t change a person’s attitude – only their behavior.
  • Never frame your actions as an attempt to change a “bad attitude.” In fact, never even use the word “attitude.”
  • Instead, accumulate a list of specific destructive behaviors and make it clear they must change.
  • Draw a clear line from the behaviors to the negative consequences for the company, and for the employee himself.

When you use this approach, one of two things will happen: The employee will bring his behavior in line with your expectations. Or your managers quickly discover that he won’t – in which case he doesn’t belong on your team. Either way, your managers resolve the problem quickly and decisively. And in the end, that’s good for everyone.


Steve Meyer
Stephen Meyer
CEO, Rapid Learning Institute


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