A “bad apple” employee can make life miserable for everyone in a workplace, but it can be especially challenging for a small business owner.
The toxic atmosphere created by just one employee can hurt your entire team, and frankly a small business has fewer layers of protection from the impact of a problem employee than a large corporation.
“Bad apples” have different ways of being a pain to deal with, including those chronic complainers and gossips who are more interested in riling up fellow workers than performing their job; those who are chronically late; workers who don’t perform their tasks forcing others to complete them and hundreds of other behaviors. There are also more serious issues, such as ethical or criminal violations or extreme bullying and harassment, which will require expert legal help to resolve.
The best advice one New York City psychologist gave to small business owners was to nip any issue with a problem employee quickly. Here are some tips to do just that.
- Don’t put your head in the sand and hope the problem goes away on its own. An employee may just need a reminder of what is expected for them to perform their job effectively. It’s possible an employee does not realize that behaviors such as constant complaining or an argumentative attitude are causing issues. The shock of having the boss speak to them may be enough to straighten out their behavior, particularly if it’s something like chronic lateness or spending too much time at a fellow employees’ desk chatting about nonsense. When you address the problem, you are forcing the person to make a choice to correct their behavior or start looking for another job.
When you talk to an employee, never make it personal and attack the person. Personal criticism is not going to help. You need to be objective and provide a detailed description of the issue and give examples. Also make it clear how it impacts fellow workers. You want to tell them how to resolve the problem behavior, such as you need to be on time every day, except in emergency situations.
- Give the employee a chance to respond. In a small business with few employees, you may be hearing only one side of the issue affecting other employees. Be fair, and remember that sometimes first impressions can be deceptive. Listen to the response with an open mind. You may realize that a different approach is necessary to fully resolve the issue. By being fair, your other employees will know that you are giving every opportunity to resolve the issue, but also that you are not afraid to confront problems.
- Document everything. From the initial conversation and throughout the process, make sure you take good notes. Even if you take all the right steps, you may face legal challenges so having it written down helps your case.
- Provide a specific timetable to resolve the issue. You need to give a schedule for the employee to improve their behavior, otherwise it may seem like you are not serious about it. When people are given deadlines, they know you mean business. During this period, provide positive and negative feedback as appropriate.
- If the employee continues to persist with the problematic behaviors, you may need to fire the person. No matter the situation, firing someone is a very difficult thing to do. You should be as respectful and direct as possible. Write down what you are going to say to the employee in advance and file the document in case there is a lawsuit. Do not make any personal comments or criticism. Be prepared to answer questions, such as if you will provide a reference and if severance pay will be offered.