Inappropriate behavior can happen in any company. As a boss or manager, it falls under your jurisdiction to manage such situations, and fast. When left unchecked, unsuitable actions can have serious impact on other employee’s performance as well as the office environment as a whole.
How to handle inappropriate behavior at work
“For managers, it is important to realize that the costs of a problematic employee go beyond the direct effects of that employee’s actions,” according to research from Professor Stephen Dimmock and Professor Willian C. Gerken.
They explain to Harvard Business Review: “Bad behaviors of one employee spill over into the behaviors of other employees through peer effects. By under-appreciating these spillover effects, a few malignant employees can infect an otherwise healthy corporate culture.”
The key to handling improper workplace behavior is effective communication. Use the following steps to improve your communication and stop unacceptable behavior in its tracks before it can permeate your workplace.
Establish an employee code of conduct
A code of conduct is a document or handbook that outlines employee expectations as well as defines appropriate office behavior. While it doesn’t have to be a complicated document, a code of conduct can provide the foundation for your company’s principles and culture. It’s like a guide for employees on how to act, as it explicitly outlines acceptable versus inappropriate behavior.
“Employees can turn to the code for guidance on questions or concerns,” says Jason Lunday, principal consultant with The Ethical Element. Lunday continues: “It is especially important to help employees to make good decisions when they face ambiguous situations or other issues.”
Every staff member should read and sign your employee code of conduct. If inappropriate behavior takes place, you can fall back on their signature. Use this workable template to get started on your code of conduct, and tailor to your company’s mission and culture. Get additional inspiration by checking out iSight’s list of code of conduct examples from large companies.
Train management staff on processes
Whether it’s a manager or team leader, all superiors in your company need to understand how to identify and eradicate improper workplace behavior. Anyone who oversees or mentors other staff should understand not only the process of providing feedback to their team members but also when to take disciplinary action.
As explained by the Society for Human Resource Management: “Preventive, ongoing training can lay the groundwork for managers to be prepared to act when employees fall short of expectations. Providing your managers with support, including the tools they need to succeed, will help them feel more confident when confronted with difficult employees.”
Make sure your management has the proper training and guidance for dealing with improper workplace behavior. Make sure as well they also have the tools and resources for conflict resolution.
Immediately address inappropriate behavior
When possible, communicate about any negative actions as quickly as possible. This allows you to discuss the situation while it’s still fresh on the employee’s mind, while communicating the consequences of those actions.
“Employees are more likely to learn and grow when they receive immediate feedback that is specific, targeted at their development and able to be put into practice right away.”Gallup 2017 State of the American Workplace report
Moreover, if you wait for a formal review or your next scheduled one-on-one, the behavior could further escalate. In turn, this can damage your company culture and morale.
Separate judgement from action
When dealing with inappropriate behavior, make sure to focus only on the issue at hand. Don’t use broad blanket statements. An employee might feel attacked if you lead from a place of judgment.
“When addressing an employee’s actions, be specific. This may even mean providing physical evidence of the employee’s deeds (or lack thereof) in case they’re defensive,” explains Nate Masterson, Marketing Manager at Maple Holistics.
For example, instead of saying: “You’re disrespectful to your colleagues,” focus on one instance. Alternatively, you might try: “At yesterday’s meeting, your comments after your co-worker’s presentation came across as rude and disheartening to their hard work.”
Don’t forget to explain how their actions are at odds with your company culture. For instance: “Harsh and critical comments about someone else’s work doesn’t reflect the encouraging environment we strive to uphold at our company. It would be better to provide constructive criticism to your colleagues, so as to be honest but also provide the opportunity to improve.”
Ensure employee’s understanding
In the above example, you’ll notice the recommended feedback explained why the inappropriate behavior negatively affected the company culture. While this is an important point to make, it won’t matter unless you confirm that the employee understands the issues. What’s more, you should give them a chance to respond and ask questions.
Ashira Prossack, workplace and leadership expert, shares her four-step process with Forbes: “First, provide the critique. Second, explain the implications of it. Third, explain how it can be improved. Fourth, check for understanding and solicit feedback from the employee. This ensures that the employee understands what they need to do and gives them the opportunity to ask questions.”
Follow-up and set consequences
As an effective manager, you need to provide feedback as well as explain why the behavior affects your culture, then set consequences for any continued actions. It’s your job to follow-up and ensure correction happens. If it doesn’t, follow-through with the initial consequences that you outlined.
Manage improper workplace behavior with communication
The basis of handling inappropriate behavior at work is communication. As a manager, you must communicate with your team members about any improper actions or behavior clearly and concisely.
With clear and productive communication methods, in addition to putting the proper processes in place, you can stop any harmful employee behavior before it hurts your company culture.