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Managing Difficult Employee Behaviors

Leaders are often tasked with managing difficult and unproductive employee behaviors.


These behaviors might include habitual poor performance, lack of cooperativeness, unresponsiveness, resistance to change, lack of accountability and/or rude and disrespectful speech, among many others. These behaviors are inconsistent with basic professional expectations and can cause decreases in productivity, performance, employee commitment and company reputation, according to SHRM.


When we choose to overlook difficult or harmful behaviors, other team members notice. They may start to resent having to pick up the slack for others’ poor job performance or grow tired of a toxic culture of yelling and name calling. Ignoring or tolerating the behavior may also be seen as condoning it and can lead to an escalation in the behavior.

Addressing these behaviors takes courage and reflection.


If the issue is poor performance, is it an issue of skill, will or hill? Diagnosing the problem can help you address it appropriately.


· Skill – Capability to execute the role as desired

· Will – Motivation to execute the role as desired

· Hill – Barriers to execute the role as desired (e.g., inefficient processes, faulty technology, limited resources or lack of clear authority)


Issues of skill can be addressed with more formal training and on-the-job coaching. Issues of hill might require process redesign or clearer delegation. If the issue is one of will, a crucial feedback conversation is necessary.


When delivering constructive feedback, be timely and specific. Stick to the behaviors you have observed rather than labeling the person. In most cases, your goal is to raise the other person’s awareness of their behaviors and their impact on the team/organization. It is also an opportunity for you to hear the employee’s perspective and learn how to motivate them or encourage healthy behaviors.


The PSBIA model can help you deliver feedback in a meaningful way:


1. Positive Intent – Express your positive intent in having the conversation.

2. Situation – What was the situation?

3. Behavior – What was the behavior demonstrated? Describe what you have observed.

4. Impact – What was the impact of the behavior? What’s at stake for you, the other person, the team and the organization?

5. Alternative Behavior – State what you expect OR ask the other person to respond/share how they could behave differently going forward.


In an effort to be fair, allow time for the employee to make requested changes. Keep a written record of the problem behaviors, their impact on the team/organization and the feedback you’ve provided. If the difficult behaviors persist, enlist help from your supervisor and/or HR department.


Interested in learning more?


Contact Elsey Consulting Group to unleash your organization’s leadership potential with the tools, training and confidence needed to solve your toughest business challenges.


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