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Bad Apples in the Workplace Part II

By Corina Sibley |

Last month I wrote about bad apples in the workplace and the damaging impact they can have on your business. The best scenario is to avoid hiring them in the first place. But what do you do about the ones you may already have working for you?

There are three basic types of bad apples; the Jerk, the Slacker and the Depressive Pessimist. Below are tips and strategies for dealing with each type to ensure they don’t spoil the barrel any further. Here is a simple framework to help guide you:

  1. Gather your data
  2. Prepare your talking points
  3. Meet with the employee
  4. Discuss next steps with the employee
  5. Document and monitor progress

The Jerk

This bad apple type is often perceived as a bully. Whether the "jerk" is a co-worker or someone in a leadership position, the issue needs to be tackled head on. In my experience, this is the most difficult bad apple type to deal with so you need to be well prepared for your initial conversation.

  1. Gather your data: Whether it’s your own personal observations of their behaviour or observations that others have brought to your attention you need to have very specific examples that you can share with this employee.
  2. Prepare your talking points: It is important that you maintain control of the meeting, so have your points ready at hand. Each example you give needs to be fact-based, not a judgement. For example, here’s two different ways you could provide feedback:
    • Judgement: "I've received complaints from several of your co-workers. We can't have bullies on the team. You need to stop this behaviour immediately.”
    • Fact-based: “It was brought to my attention that in last week’s team meeting you interrupted one of your co-workers before he had the chance to finish his sentence, and then proceeded to let everyone know that his idea was in your words “stupid” and threw his notepad across the room. Your behaviour made the entire group uncomfortable and is absolutely unacceptable.”
    The first example is not specific enough and makes it easy for the employee to argue with you. Also, labelling the employee as a bully does not help them understand what exactly they need to change; steer clear of this type of judgement language. The second example provides a clear, fact-based observation of their behaviour making it tough for them to argue back. You also have not divulged which individuals on the team brought the matter to your attention.
  3. Meet with the employee: Ensure the meeting is held in a private, confidential setting. Give the employee the opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. However, you want to ensure the employee walks away from the meeting with a very clear understanding (not necessarily agreement) that their behaviour is unacceptable.
  4. Discuss next steps with the employee: In the case of dealing with the “jerk” it is advisable to follow the disciplinary process, as workplace harassment and bullying are against the law. This process consists of the following steps:
    1. Verbal Warning
    2. Written Warning
    3. Suspension
    4. Termination
  5. Document and monitor progress: The seriousness of the situation will dictate at what step you start. Typically, if this is the first time you’ve had to speak to your employee about his behaviour, you would let him know that this is a verbal warning and document it as such in his employee file. You would also let him know that if you have to speak to him again about similar behaviour in the future, further discipline may be warranted. It is only in very serious situations that you would move right to suspension or termination. Consult an HR professional before making such a decision.

Please note that in cases where a complaint of workplace harassment has been brought to your attention, you will need to conduct a formal investigation to determine whether or not to proceed with any kind of disciplinary measure. A third party such as an HR professional can help with the investigation and provide advice as to next steps based on the investigation results.

The Slacker

"Slackers" tend not to perform to the best of their abilities and more than likely are not doing their job the way you or their co-workers would like them to. The steps to deal with the slacker are the same as handling the “jerk”, but the outcome is different. The best way to handle the slacker is to follow a performance improvement process, which involves coaching, mentoring and training, versus the discipline route. A performance improvement plan (PIP) includes the following:

  • A letter:
    • Giving the reason(s) the employee is being put on a PIP, with specific examples of what went wrong and the impact it had on the team and/or your business
    • Sharing your expectations for what improvements you would like to see from her
    • Outlining the length of the PIP; typically 30, 60 or 90 days.
  • An action plan:
    • Providing specific goals for improvement, including deadlines
    • Outlining any courses the employee needs to complete, and by when
    • Scheduling regular weekly or bi-weekly meetings to measure progress.

Other suggestions for dealing with the slacker include:

  • Asking the employee for his/her own ideas on how they can improve and incorporating them into the performance improvement plan (PIP).
  • Asking if there’s anything stopping the employee from doing their job properly that you as the manager can help rectify.

The Depressive Pessimist

This bad apple type is probably not aware of the impact their behaviour is having on their co-workers. You follow the same steps but again, the outcome is most likely not discipline. The tone of this conversation will be much more informal. Other things to consider when dealing with the depressive pessimist:

  • Ask if there is anything in their personal life that may be impacting their behaviour at work. Ensure you show empathy and concern.
  • If your business has an Employee Assistance Program, consider referring them to it to help with the situation.

If after having the conversation you don’t see a significant improvement, you may need to progress to a PIP.

It is important to deal with your bad apple employee quickly and not let the situation fester. Following the above framework will help you do so with confidence and provide you with the documentation you may need should you be in a position of having to consult with an HR professional if no improvement occurs or the situation becomes unsalvageable.

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