Addressing management issues

Nov. 1, 2010

Good employee has bad attitude

Q One of people in our lab has developed a bad attitude. While her job skills are fine, people have complained that her behavior is unpredictable and often rude. I know she has some personal problems that may have led to her chronic negativity, but now no one wants to work with her anymore. How can I effectively address this in her next evaluation?

A This disruptive employee must be dealt with sooner rather than later, because a bad attitude can spread like a virus. The other employees are already reacting to this employee’s behaviors by making it clear that they do not want to work with her.

First, seek help from the human resources (HR) department and then arrange to talk to the employee in private. This employee needs to know what is inappropriate about her behavior and what is considered appropriate behavior. Provide examples of the impact her behavior has on the lab, her co-workers, and your clients. Be clear about your expectations. If certain behaviors need to end immediately, say so, and work with her to develop an action plan to improve her behavior. Tell her that you will be monitoring her progress.

Let her know that you value her skills, and you hope that you do not have to resort to terminating her employment; but it is ultimately her choice, as she will have to solve this problem to ensure her continued employment. Your role is to guide her. Summarize the meeting in writing to provide evidence that the employee has been counseled about her behavior. Follow up with the employee periodically and offer encouragement when you see improvement. If her behavior does not improve, it may be necessary to consult with the HR department on proper termination procedures.

Many supervisors are promoted to management positions based on their technical skills but often have had little or no training in managing people. It is not a job for the faint of heart!
There will inevitably be times when you need to deal with “problem” employees, so it may be of value to read some books on the subject such as “Managing Difficult People: A Survival Guide For Handling Any Employee” by Marilyn Pincus; “How to Manage Problem Employees: A Step-by-Step Guide for Turning Difficult Employees into High Performers” by Glenn Shepard; “101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees: A Manager’s Guide to Addressing Performance, Conduct, and Discipline Challenges” by Paul Falcone; or “From Difficult to Disturbed: Understanding and Managing Dysfunctional Employees” by Laurence Miller, PhD.

—D. Ann Thomas
Laboratory Consultant
Burlington, NC

A Do not wait until her evaluation; meet with this employee as soon as possible. She deserves to know that her behavior is not meeting job standards. Establish your expectations, and jointly determine a way for her to successfully meet them. (The quarterly review may be a good opportunity to assess progress in this area.)

When speaking with her, stick with the facts. Assuming you have a job description for her position, use it as a basis for job expectations. Document all instances where her behavior has not met those job expectations. While her home situation may be contributing to her performance, she must perform her job at a satisfactory level. You can be sensitive to her needs while ensuring she performs successfully.

Contact your HR department and apprise its professionals of the situation. They can guide you in handling this case more specifically than the suggestions offered in this column. Recommend possible resources for your employee (e.g., EAP), and be present at the evaluation, if necessary.

During the evaluation share your factual information, but be open to hearing the employee’s side. Keep her focused on specifics, and listen for what she does not say. This interview is the means to understand your employee and clarify your expectations in a meaningful way. It is your opportunity to engage her in her own improvement plan. Ask her how she feels she can improve. Use this information to develop a plan and timeline. Post-meeting be sure to follow up on a regular basis. Your coaching skills are needed here.

—Martha Casassa, MS, CLD(NCA), MT(ASCP)
Laboratory Director
Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital
Braintree, MA

Bottom line: A serious conversation should take place between you and this employee to map out a future for this employee at your facility. As with most employee issues, involve HR staff as soon as possible. If this is a valued employee and she wants to conscientiously improve her behavior, consider allowing her to choose short-term goals to demonstrate her willingness to change her behavior. Over time, add goals that require interacting with other staff so that they gain back confidence in her as a valued member of the team.

C. Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice consultant with
State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co. in Brentwood, TN, and president of CLMA. Send questions to Ms. Pontius at [email protected].