Performance Management Blog

Bad Employee Behaviors

Posted by Jamie Resker on Jul 26, 2009 2:44:00 PM

In my career I worked in retail, an international non profit and in technology.  I saw bad behavior that was clearly recognized by all but went unaddressed.  Here's a snapshot of my career and bad behavior observations:

I worked in several well known Boston based retail stores where bad behavior was the norm.  I thought it was attributable to the:

  • transient nature of the people we attracted
  • low pay
  • militant managers (including my own boss!)
  • standing on one's feet all day
  • having to work holidays and every Saturday

It was quite common for people to compensate themselves by stealing cash or merchandise.  Calling in sick, coming in late and using every excuse in the book to leave early was the norm.  At one of the big department stores I worked at we had an answering machine to take the sick calls.  During the holidays where we had the highest number of staff we usually had 50 calls a day.  One of the most memorable bad behavior cases involved a cantankerous employee working behind the men's tie counter who became annoyed with a co-worker and was fired for hitting her over the head with a box.  During his termination he emphatically said, "but the box was empty, she wasn't hurt".  This employee was a known troublemaker yet it took hitting someone over the head with a box to get rid of him.

I then went to work for an altruistic international non profit doing work in developing countries.  I thought, "well this is going to be a place where we everyone is pulling in the direction of the greater good". Wrong.  Bad behavior was rampant and stemmed from a power hungry finance group that were, well, rude and nasty to everyone in their path.  Employees felt like they were being beat up and bullied on a daily basis.  You never knew when they'd be coming for you or make it difficult if not impossible to get your job done.  The president just stood back and allowed the finance czars set the tone for the organization:  fear, back stabbing, disrespect and blame. 

OK, so on I went to a technology company.  It was a time when we couldn't find enough people fast enough, the stock price was going through the roof and technology was the place to be.  Who could have the time and energy to behave badly? As it turned out, lots of people. 

One might chalk it up to all of the engineering types we had, because we know how those engineers can be:  really brilliant but not so great with the people skills. I found this not to be the case.  It was mostly the non-engineering employees who exhibited bad behaviors:  sales, marketing, manufacturing, purchasing, finance and even HR (and I was in charge of HR!).  I remember acquiring a new company on the West Coast that came with an HR Director who was a total mismatch for the job.  She did a great job on all of the operations type issues, and as a result of the acquisition there were many.  The issue with this person?  She didn't like people.  She didn't want to give employees the time of day.  What?  An HR person who doesn't want to deal with people?  She had to go. 

It's common to make excuses for why bad behavior exists and persists in our organizations.  Here are some comments we've heard to rationalize why bad behavior exists:

  • We're a non profit and don't pay well
  • We're a hospital and with the nursing shortage and stress...
  • We're a financial organization and you know how those financial types can be
  • We have mostly technical people here and there not known for their people skills
  • We have a lot of younger employees who act immaturely
  • We're really nice around here and we like to avoid conflict (my personal favorite)

Stop the nonsense!  In our work we find disruptive behaviors in all organizations:  government, for profit, non profit, technology, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, etc.  The common denominator:  Where there are people there is the opportunity for bad behaviors to surface.  Of course behaviors are difficult to talk about, so oftentimes they are allowed to continue. 

Download our Guide for Addressing Disruptive Behaviors 

Topics: bad employee behavior