Biz Basics

By Beau Denton April 30, 2011

No Offense, But…

No one enjoys receiving criticism. Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned critiques or corrections can lead to defensiveness, resentment or a loss of morale. But if an employee consistently exhibits problem behavior, like tardiness, conflict or a lack of respect, employers must be willing to address the situation. An isolated behavioral problem, though, can quickly turn into an office-wide morale issue if criticism is not properly handled.

The goal, says Linda Tiffan, a principal with T2 Management Consultants in Sarasota, is to address behavioral issues in a way that inspires employees toward problem resolution. It’s important to be clear on the nature of your criticism—many employers confuse “dealing with a person who has been accused of misconduct as opposed to working with a person that you want to develop further for leadership.” Addressing a concern because you see untapped potential in an employee is different from confronting behavior that is consistently causing problems—make sure you know

your goal up front to prevent any future confusion.

The process is key—especially if you are addressing consistent behavioral problems or significant wrongdoings. Gather details, document your steps, and allow the employee an opportunity to respond. Without that process, and without clearly communicating the consequences for continued bad behavior, meaningful resolution is nearly impossible.

Steps for Addressing Problem Employees

Collect information. When confronting an employee about a specific issue, make sure you have as much information as possible. Ask that employee’s supervisors for details, and try to find out specifics about how the work environment or productivity is being affected by the problem behavior, keeping in mind that observation is much more valuable than hearsay. “Conducting a haphazard investigation is just as bad as doing no investigation at all,” says Tiffan—especially if intentional wrongdoing is involved.

Let the employee respond. Before taking any disciplinary action, the employee “needs to be able to explain things from their point of view,” says Tiffan. If personal problems or unseen factors in the workplace are contributing to the issue, you may be able to work toward resolution without any conflict.

Document. If disciplinary action leads to an employee accusing you of misconduct, you should be able to “defend the investigation” and show that “it is above reproach,” says Tiffan. Make sure to keep track of complaints, observations and disciplinary actions.

Use progressive discipline. It helps to start with a verbal exchange, treating the conflict as one that can be resolved. Be clear that consequences for continued misconduct can include suspension and, ultimately, dismissal. Through all of this, you may want to offer coaching or outside consultation if the employee is willing to work toward resolution.

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