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How to Handle a Successful Employee with a Bad Attitude

Everyone has stories about people who are difficult to work with. These experiences are often what makes an otherwise good job a dreadful experience. Often times, the saving grace for these people is they’re good at what they do. Otherwise, there would be no reason for the company to tolerate their bad attitude. If you work in HR or a leadership position, it’s important to be aware of the dynamics in the workplace. A high-performing employee with a big ego, unfriendly demeanor, or generally negative personality may deliver stellar results but can also be the source of problems among the staff. At some point, you have to draw a line and let these types of employees know that great results aren’t an excuse for poor behavior.

Debunking the myth: Successful employees don’t have bad attitudes Let’s start by making it clear that great employees don’t have bad attitudes. They merely excel at one thing but need to make improvements in other areas before they can be considered a successful member of the company. The reality is the best employees are well rounded. They do excellent work and have other personality traits that make them a solid contributor to the team. A lot of times these attributes aren’t as apparent as job success but the influence they have on the company is invaluable. Let’s explore some traits people with a positive attitude have and how each benefits the company:

  • Team player – An ideal employee is happy to help their colleagues. They never play the that’s-not-my-job card.

  • Honest and accountable – High-character people own up to their mistakes and learn from the experience. They don’t blame others or make excuses.

  • Takes initiative – Most companies have work that needs to be done that doesn’t fall under one specific person’s job responsibilities. Great employees identify these opportunities and run with them.

  • Act as a mentor and leader – An experienced professional should be willing to offer advice to colleagues who are earlier in their career. They never act like they’re more important than someone who is younger and less experienced than them.

  • A positive presence in the workplace – The absolute best people to work with are friendly. Your employees spend a lot of time together and should be kind to one another.

The traits outlined above make up a truly successful employee. Accomplishing job responsibilities and following company processes can be learned and mastered over time. But employees who maintain a positive attitude while overcoming the challenges of their job are hard to come by.

Encourage an attitude adjustment What can you do to help a person with a negative attitude achieve personal growth? A common misconception is employee reviews focus strictly on job performance. An ideal review process should also cover whatever else your company values in its employees, including the attitude they bring to the workplace. Here are some tips for conducting an effective performance review for a high-performing employee who can stand to make improvements in other areas:

  • Ensure feedback is specific – Don’t just tell the employee their behavior needs to improve. Point out exactly what negative traits they have and the impact each has on other employees.

  • Provide examples of bad behavior – One way to make feedback specific is to highlight past examples of the employee’s poor attitude.

  • Give actionable advice – After you provide examples of bad behavior, clearly let the employee know how they should have behaved so they know what is expected of them going forward.

  • Give recognition for a job well done – Since the employee does great work, be sure to give them credit where it’s due. You don’t want the employee to come away from their review feeling it was unfair and one-sided.

  • Monitor the employee’s attitude and check-in regularly – After the review concludes, see if the employee tries to improve their attitude and meet with them often to discuss their progress.

It’s a difficult conversation telling a talented employee they need to make improvements. They know they’re good at their job and might feel like they were doing everything right. However, if you clearly let the employee know where their attitude is falling short and how it impacts the wider company, they should come away understanding they have personal issues they need to work on.

Look past an employee’s results On the surface, you want every employee to do great work that results in the company being successful. But it’s important to keep in mind that goals are met when different people work well together. A high-performing employee with a bad attitude can do more harm than good. The immediate results they deliver likely won’t be worth the workplace problems they cause so be sure to focus on the big picture.


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