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Dear David: Weeding out the rotten apples in the workplace

October 10/17, 2016: Volume 31, Number 9

By David Romano

Dear David:

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.53.12 PMThe very first week I hired my “rotten apple” I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I was so enamored with what she could do for me that I lost sight of what she could do to me. After nearly 13 months of declining performance and increased negativity, I finally decided to let her go. On her way out she told the other employees the company was going down and to look for a new job because I had no money to pay them. Of course, all of this was a lie. How do I protect myself from this disaster occurring again in the future?

Dear Frustrated Owner,

Every workplace has negative people who erode morale. They’re not always easy to pick out of a crowd, but they can do tremendous damage over time. Most of the time these folks don’t make the big mistakes that call attention to themselves. They’re frequently pretty good at their jobs, so they’re not called on the carpet too often. But like a computer virus, their acidic personalities eat away at the goals—and ultimately the bottom line—of the company.

So who are these people? They’re generally the employees who:

  • Continually find things to complain about.
  • Back stab, spread gossip and start rumors that pit employees against each other and even the boss.
  • Undermine your authority with a barrage of criticism.

Allowing employees with bad attitudes to continue their behavior without consequence can have multiple effects. Co-workers who experience the employee’s bad attitude firsthand may suffer low morale or a negative attitude. There’s also the risk of lowered productivity among employees, which affects the bottom line. Even worse, customers can be offended when exposed to an employee with a bad attitude.

As the owner of a small business, it’s critical that you take a proactive approach and find out how to stop the employee from wreaking havoc on your organization, employees and customers.

Step 1. Observe and document instances of each employee’s bad attitude so you can refer to it later. Don’t wait too long; do it immediately. Speak to the employee in private. Tell her you have noticed her negative attitude and provide examples if necessary.

Step 2. Ask the employee to explain her reasons for the bad attitude and listen carefully for the reasons. If she’s upset over a situation at work, try to help her solve it. If she can’t tell you why her attitude is negative, explain that her behavior is unacceptable and that you expect her to change it. Advise her of the consequences—verbal warning, written warning, suspension or separation—if she continues to exhibit a bad attitude.

Step 3. Ask an employee who refuses to acknowledge that her attitude is a problem to participate in a role play with you. Tell her to act as the supervisor while you pretend to be her. Use material from your notes to illustrate her negative attitude. This may help her realize the impact of her behavior upon others.

Step 4. Implement disciplinary action or provide support to the employee as needed. Praise her if she’s able to successfully change her attitude; if not, then make a move quickly to turn her loose if you couldn’t turn her around.

Every owner needs an effective strategy to deal with bad employee attitudes. The stakes are too high to just let things slide.