What drives employees who have bad attitudes?

by on October 5, 2011 · 14 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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I once had a direct report who simply couldn’t believe that his values could be aligned with those of our company. It was always us vs. them and a win/win was inconceivable to him. If he didn’t get the raise he wanted, the company was greedy. If he didn’t get the promotion he wanted – now! – the company was conspiring to hold him back. If he proposed a bold new idea and everyone didn’t embrace it, he concluded that he was surrounded by risk-averse morons.

Let’s give it a name – the guy had a “bad attitude.” As his manager I knew he was poisoning morale and that I had to do something about him. But what? One day I just came out and told him, “Pal, you’ve got a bad attitude.”

Naively, I thought that would really sting him and change his behavior. But it didn’t. In fact, he made it clear to me that he was actually proud of this thing I called a bad attitude. In his mind, he believed, “I tell the truth that nobody else dares to utter.” Or “I’m the only guy who asks the tough questions.” It occurred to me that all his life teachers, parents, coaches and bosses had been telling him he’s got a crappy attitude. And he wore that label like a badge of honor.

So the worst thing you can possibly say to such a person is, “Pal, you’ve got a bad attitude.”

And the worst thing you could possibly do as a manager is nothing. Your entire team is looking at you and thinking, “Why are you letting this guy disrupt our workplace? What are you waiting for?”

So what’s a manager to do? Just fire the malcontent? What if he or she brings unique skills to the organization? What if all those people who were expecting you to “do something” now say, “What the heck did you do that for?”

I’d like to hear from managers on this one. Have you ever had a disruptive renegade on your staff? If so, what did you do about it? And how did it all end? Post comments below.

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14 Comments on This Post

  1. Alexis Jones
    October 5, 2011 - 5:16 pm

    We fired a guy who constantly made negative comments like, “show me the money” during a meeting about attitude/commitment and who made fun of others who enthusiastically said they’re “all in” regarding attitude/commitment.  He was always complaining and created a toxic atmosphere during an already negative time period due to the slow economy.  We also had an issue of absenteeism with him.  The “show me the money” comment was the last straw–he was fired that day.

  2. Alexis Jones
    October 5, 2011 - 5:16 pm

    We fired a guy who constantly made negative comments like, “show me the money” during a meeting about attitude/commitment and who made fun of others who enthusiastically said they’re “all in” regarding attitude/commitment.  He was always complaining and created a toxic atmosphere during an already negative time period due to the slow economy.  We also had an issue of absenteeism with him.  The “show me the money” comment was the last straw–he was fired that day.

    • BeenThereDoneThat
      October 5, 2011 - 6:11 pm

      It’s one of those things that you have to nip in the bud and deal with as soon as you recognize it. Coaching moments appear from the very first day of someone coming in to the company, and missing those opportunities to align their values with those of your companies can cost you. I know. As a small business, we’ve had our fair share of poison people and losing even one in this type of environment can really hurt- almost as much as having them around.

  3. Karen Hamilton
    October 5, 2011 - 5:54 pm

    We had an employee who kind’ve got fired in a way but called it an “resignation”. His behavior was so bad it wasn’t only affecting our employees but our customers was well. He backed himself into a situation that got him suspended without pay and when he was suppose to come back to work , he didn’t show up and he told us he didn’t know when he was returning.  Well after a week of “not knowing” our superintendent told him to come back to work or resign.   He chose to resign. Problem solved!

  4. Karen Hamilton
    October 5, 2011 - 5:54 pm

    We had an employee who kind’ve got fired in a way but called it an “resignation”. His behavior was so bad it wasn’t only affecting our employees but our customers was well. He backed himself into a situation that got him suspended without pay and when he was suppose to come back to work , he didn’t show up and he told us he didn’t know when he was returning.  Well after a week of “not knowing” our superintendent told him to come back to work or resign.   He chose to resign. Problem solved!

  5. BeenThereDoneThat
    October 5, 2011 - 6:11 pm

    It’s one of those things that you have to nip in the bud and deal with as soon as you recognize it. Coaching moments appear from the very first day of someone coming in to the company, and missing those opportunities to align their values with those of your companies can cost you. I know. As a small business, we’ve had our fair share of poison people and losing even one in this type of environment can really hurt- almost as much as having them around.

  6. HR
    October 5, 2011 - 6:30 pm

    Yes, we had an employee that had a bad attitude recently.  The employee continued to argue and spit out fallacies; accuse us of lying; acuse us of changing direction in mid stream.  I calmly put it all in writing; all the processes that the employee claimed we had lied about, changed, etc.; also explained that we would no longer tolerate the divisive behavior, no longer accept the poor attitude, and that if the employee truly did not like, respect or trust us then the employee should truly assess for themselves if they wanted to be employed with us.  To my surprise, total attitude change; humbled employee showed up in the office explaining that they really needed the job and apologized for the behaviors that got them there.  So far, several months have passed and new leaf is still right side up! 

  7. HR
    October 5, 2011 - 6:30 pm

    Yes, we had an employee that had a bad attitude recently.  The employee continued to argue and spit out fallacies; accuse us of lying; acuse us of changing direction in mid stream.  I calmly put it all in writing; all the processes that the employee claimed we had lied about, changed, etc.; also explained that we would no longer tolerate the divisive behavior, no longer accept the poor attitude, and that if the employee truly did not like, respect or trust us then the employee should truly assess for themselves if they wanted to be employed with us.  To my surprise, total attitude change; humbled employee showed up in the office explaining that they really needed the job and apologized for the behaviors that got them there.  So far, several months have passed and new leaf is still right side up! 

  8. WinkyZ
    October 5, 2011 - 6:43 pm

    We have a new employee just out of graduate school and she has become this employee above.  We have spoken to her about her disruptive behavior and her response was that she is completely justified.  After several discussions with her about how she was not “justified” and that it bothered others we were all quite frustrated.  One day I attempted to have the discussion again, as she begin to explain her behavior as justified AGAIN, I quietly let her finish and simply walked out of her office.  As the Human Resources person I hoped she understood that I did not agree with her. The next day she came in my office and apoligized for her negative attitude and vowed to begin fresh.  I probably will not ever try this again, but it worked this time.

  9. WinkyZ
    October 5, 2011 - 6:43 pm

    We have a new employee just out of graduate school and she has become this employee above.  We have spoken to her about her disruptive behavior and her response was that she is completely justified.  After several discussions with her about how she was not “justified” and that it bothered others we were all quite frustrated.  One day I attempted to have the discussion again, as she begin to explain her behavior as justified AGAIN, I quietly let her finish and simply walked out of her office.  As the Human Resources person I hoped she understood that I did not agree with her. The next day she came in my office and apoligized for her negative attitude and vowed to begin fresh.  I probably will not ever try this again, but it worked this time.

  10. Drbarnett
    October 5, 2011 - 9:48 pm

    i’m afraid there isn’t a good solution.  i have had several such employees over the years and being of a somewhat spiritual bent, i tried to believe that they were in my life for some “reason.”  i’ve tried reasoning with them, psychoanalyzing them, befriending them, threatening them, you name it.  Unfortunately, it is true that you should hire attitude over training because for most things you can train them but you cannot instill the attitude.  So you should fire them for attitude, the sooner the better!  It isn’t our job to find out why the attitude is so bad.  The most you can do is warn the employee.  It is not fair to the others on the team so unless they are in a critical position (like being the boss- and if they are, find another job fast!), get rid of them.

  11. Drbarnett
    October 5, 2011 - 9:48 pm

    i’m afraid there isn’t a good solution.  i have had several such employees over the years and being of a somewhat spiritual bent, i tried to believe that they were in my life for some “reason.”  i’ve tried reasoning with them, psychoanalyzing them, befriending them, threatening them, you name it.  Unfortunately, it is true that you should hire attitude over training because for most things you can train them but you cannot instill the attitude.  So you should fire them for attitude, the sooner the better!  It isn’t our job to find out why the attitude is so bad.  The most you can do is warn the employee.  It is not fair to the others on the team so unless they are in a critical position (like being the boss- and if they are, find another job fast!), get rid of them.

  12. October 11, 2011 - 12:22 am

    In my experience, one of the most powerful strategies that a leader can employ with an employee with an attitude problem is to engage them in the solution. Rather than having it be a contentious “us vs. them” stand-off I prefer to change the dynamic to one of both parties proverbially sitting on the same side of the table looking at the issue(s) together and having a dialogue about potential solutions. In this approach, the manager shares with the employee all pertinent/non-confidential facts and constraints related to the situation (e.g. organizational, budgetary, political, etc.) and then utilizes the power of inquiry to engage the employee in a generative/creative discussion about potential approaches and solutions. By using phrases such as “Help me understand the situation from your perspective” and “what are some potential approaches I might not have considered” you guide the employee to accept an ownership stake in the outcome plus, as an added benefit, you gain a deeper insight into the employee’s reasoning, problem solving and mental agility skills.

    I do agree with several of the other comments below. It’s always essential to document all conversations so there is a “paper trail” of what has transpired and the steps taken to remedy the situation. Further, if the person in question remains completely unreasonable after some good faith attempts to remedy the situation then you must consider removing them to avoid further damage to the morale of the team and the company.
     http://springboard.resourcefulhr.com/?p=1507#more-1507

  13. October 11, 2011 - 12:22 am

    In my experience, one of the most powerful strategies that a leader can employ with an employee with an attitude problem is to engage them in the solution. Rather than having it be a contentious “us vs. them” stand-off I prefer to change the dynamic to one of both parties proverbially sitting on the same side of the table looking at the issue(s) together and having a dialogue about potential solutions. In this approach, the manager shares with the employee all pertinent/non-confidential facts and constraints related to the situation (e.g. organizational, budgetary, political, etc.) and then utilizes the power of inquiry to engage the employee in a generative/creative discussion about potential approaches and solutions. By using phrases such as “Help me understand the situation from your perspective” and “what are some potential approaches I might not have considered” you guide the employee to accept an ownership stake in the outcome plus, as an added benefit, you gain a deeper insight into the employee’s reasoning, problem solving and mental agility skills.

    I do agree with several of the other comments below. It’s always essential to document all conversations so there is a “paper trail” of what has transpired and the steps taken to remedy the situation. Further, if the person in question remains completely unreasonable after some good faith attempts to remedy the situation then you must consider removing them to avoid further damage to the morale of the team and the company.
     http://springboard.resourcefulhr.com/?p=1507#more-1507

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