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Managing Disruptive Employee Behaviors

Managing Disruptive Employee Behaviors
Managing Disruptive Employee Behaviors

By Suzanne Hoffman  Ph.D.


Senior Consultant Baron Center, Inc


Article #2 of the series: The 4 D’s of Workplace Behaviors



What are Disruptive Behaviors?


Disruptive behaviors include (but are not limited to) conduct such as angry outbursts, “toxic” behaviors, gross insubordination, lack of accountability, attendance and performance issues and highly emotional and chaotic behaviors.

When chronic, the potential exists for co-workers, supervisors and even executives to feel “held hostage” by the individual and his/her problematic behavior. This can result in lost productivity, poor job performance and organizational stress for everyone in the workplace.


How do Disruptive Behaviors affect the workplace?


The implication here is that these behaviors can have a significant business impact for an organization in that they tend to slow down efficiency, decrease trust among co-workers and/or management, and if not addressed, these problematic behaviors are perceived as implicitly supported, which ultimately reinforces the behaviors as acceptable.


Additionally, the impact of these behaviors on those exposed to them can be damaging. Working with an individual who is explosive, defiant, passive aggressive, or emotionally unstable can cause significant frustration, stress, and anxiety for those around them.


Don’t Send the Wrong Message!


So, what is the most effective way to address these issues when they occur? First, of utmost importance is to address these behaviors immediately, as soon as they are 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.


Address the Disruptive Behavior 


In addressing the behavior, a private discussion with the employee accused of displaying the conduct is vital. We often talk about the idea of “behaviors in context” – and by this we mean that it is always important to get an understanding of the offending employee’s perspective on their behavior. One incident of “bad behavior” is a snapshot in time, and we often don’t know what preceded it, what stressors may be occurring in an employee’s personal life, and/or what types of job stress may be affecting how they conduct themselves at the workplace.


Even the most productive and well-behaved employees occasionally have a bad day that results in an emotional outburst or less than professional behavior. Establishing 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. Also look to see if the behavior displayed has violated any company policies related to conduct. If so, there could be a disciplinary response indicated, depending upon the level of behavior that is displayed.


Is the employee aware of the impact on others?


If you believe an employee is being disruptive and causing difficulties for his or her coworkers, request a private meeting with that individual. 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 company — and find out if there is any valid organizational reason for their anger and frustration.


If a genuine problem is present, assure the employee that the complaint will be responded to in a timely manner and remind him or her of any relevant behavior policies. Also, suggest more appropriate ways for communicating frustration and other concerns to the organization. Finally, as with any workplace behavioral counseling, set a time for a follow up meeting to check on the employee’s reaction and any progress toward dealing with the behavior in a more productive way.


Observe and Act


Following this meeting, be sure to observe the employee’s behavior to evaluate signs of improvement. Covertly keep an eye on his or her attitude in the workplace. Take note of any changes, improvements or reoccurring behaviors. Since you have talked with your employee about his or her disruptive behavior and have agreed on a solution to any applicable issues, it’s only fair to allow him the opportunity to adjust his mannerisms. If the behavior doesn’t improve, or worsens, it may be time to move to more formal disciplinary action for that employee.



Stay Tuned!


Following our continuum, next month we will focus on addressing disorderly behaviors. These include conducts such as threats, intimidation, inappropriate use of social media and technology,   throwing of objects, vandalism and theft, and verbal, sexual and physical harassment.

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