Managing “Disruptive” Employee Behaviors

Nov 7, 2017 10:43:53 AM

Blog #2 of the series: Managing 4 Difficult Workplace Behaviors 

What are “Disruptive” Workplace Behaviors?

Disruptive workplace behaviors include (but are not limited to) attendance and performance issues, highly emotional and chaotic behaviors, heated outbursts, gross insubordination, lack of accountability for one’s inappropriate behavior, and lower level workplace bullying. When Disruptive behaviors are allowed to continue for any length of time in the work environment, the potential exists for co-workers, supervisors and even executives to feel “held hostage” by the individual and his/her problematic behavior.

How do “Disruptive” Behaviors affect the workplace?

The truth is, the impact of these behaviors on those exposed to them can be quite damaging. Working with an individual who is explosive, defiant, passive aggressive, or emotionally unstable can cause significant frustration, stress, and anxiety for those with whom they work. The result can be seen in lost productivity, poor job performance and organizational stress for everyone impacted in the organization.

How should “Disruptive” workplace behaviors be addressed?

To be most effective in curbing these behaviors, it is of utmost importance to address the undesirable conduct immediately, in fact as soon as it is observed or reported. A delay in responding, or lack of response sends the message that the behavior is acceptable, or at least to be tolerated as a condition of employment, and the fallout from this can be costly.

To understand the underlying reason for the conduct, we like the idea of “behaviors in context” – by this we mean that we strive to understand issues that may be occurring for an employee, particularly with regard to job stress, that may be related the behaviors of concern.  

Establishing that context, and looking at employee behavioral history, helps us identify whether this is a one-time or rare event, versus the employee who has a chronic history of displaying such behavior. The truth is, even the most productive and well-behaved employees occasionally have a bad day that results in an emotional outburst or less than professional behavior. Understanding the context helps us identify an appropriate intervention.

It is also important to know whether the behavior displayed has violated any company policies related to conduct. If so, there could be a formal disciplinary response indicated, depending upon the level of behavior that is displayed.

How should a discussion about these behaviors be structured?

  1. Request a private meeting with the employee in question. Be prepared to give examples of the behavior that has occurred, and make the employee aware of how the behavior is affecting his or her coworkers — and the organization as a whole. Ask the employee to help you understand the behavior. 
  1. Listen for any work-related reason for their anger and frustration. Sometimes “bad” behavior is the reaction of the employee to a perceived or actual organizational problem or dysfunction. If this is the case, take note. While organizational dysfunction doesn’t justify engaging in the inappropriate behavior, it is vital to be aware of any actual or perceived organizational factors which may be inflaming the situation. 
  1. Remind the employee about professional behavior, harassment or other applicable policies. 
  1. Identify more appropriate ways for the employee to communicate frustration and other concerns to the organization, and outline your expectations for future behavior, including communication of grievances. 
  1. Finally, as with any workplace behavioral counseling, set a time for a follow-up meeting to check on the employee’s reaction and to assess any progress moving toward agreed-upon goals.

Why is follow-up so important?

In the case of any corrective counseling or disciplinary action, thorough follow-up is one of the keys to lasting behavioral change. It indicates that managing the behavior is a top priority to the organization, and that complying with the plan for appropriate conduct will be part of measuring job performance.

After the initial meeting, be sure to observe the employee’s behavior to evaluate signs of improvement. Observe his or her attitude in the workplace. Take note of any changes, improvements or reoccurring behaviors. If noticeable improvement occurs, recognize it in your interactions with the employee. Plan to schedule at least one more follow-up after the initial meeting to again check in with the employee, to troubleshoot any issues and answer questions, or to identify further areas for improvement. Further follow ups can be scheduled as needed.

If the behavior doesn’t improve, or worsens, it may be time to move to a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) and/or formal disciplinary action for that employee, if such action hasn’t already occurred.

As mentioned in our earlier blog, also be sure to document your conversations, observations, meetings and interventions, as well as any additional consultations with other relevant parties within your organization.

What about co-workers and others?

One more note – sometimes the co-workers of the employee whose behavior has caused problems are impacted emotionally by these and more serious behaviors, which we will be addressing in future blogs.  Be sure to check in with these impacted individuals as well, offer support, and be prepared to offer EAP and any other resources that may be helpful to them.

Up next…

Our following blog will focus on addressing the next level of concerning workplace behaviors, Aggressive behaviors. These behaviors are more concerning in terms of their implications regarding physical safety of employees, and include conduct such as threats, intimidation, higher level bullying behaviors, inappropriate use of social media and technology, throwing of objects, vandalism and theft, and verbal, sexual and physical harassment.


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Topics: WPV