It should go without saying that some types of employee behavior are simply unacceptable. Violence, harassment, bullying, theft, and fraud are examples that come to mind. But other behaviors may be less obvious—they’re not ideal, but they may be more of a question of whether an employee should be terminated, disciplined, or simply warned to stop.
Let’s take a look at some unacceptable behaviors that may be less obvious but are nonetheless problematic.
- Behavior that is belittling or condescending toward others. This type of behavior is easy to miss or ignore. If someone doesn’t directly complain, it may not even come to the attention of management or HR. But it will likely cause a problem, not only for the target of the offender’s behavior but also for others who are less enthusiastic about the workplace because they’re fearful of this employee. They may be afraid to speak up, as well. This situation needs to be proactively watched out for so it’s discovered before it escalates.
- Retaliatory behavior. We all know there are specific actions that are protected by law, like taking Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave when qualified and getting workers’ compensation for an injury. But some people still take actions that are retaliatory in nature despite their being illegal. Anyone who has an impact on employment decisions (including deciding who gets specific projects and raises, for example) should be trained and retrained on avoiding retaliation for protected activities.
- Behavior that causes negative employee morale. This is a broad category of behaviors that could incorporate a lot of things. The key is that sometimes, seemingly small things can be problematic when they decrease morale. Poor employee morale not only impacts productivity but also can make it harder to recruit, as it will eventually impact the employer brand. As such, employers should be proactive and not tolerate behaviors that bring down morale significantly over time.
- High levels of anger and aggression. Another area of concern is when employees display an inappropriate level of anger or an inability to control their anger or aggression. It’s clearly grounds for action but may or may not be grounds for termination, depending on the details. However, a good response is not tolerating the situation and addressing it to keep it from happening again.
- Showing a lack of respect for others or for the workplace. This type of behavior can also be easily missed or overlooked, but disrespectful behavior can be highly problematic. It shows a lack of willingness to work professionally with others and will likely cause bigger problems in the future, both with the targets of the disrespect and with others who witness it.
Employers have an obligation to not only have and apply workplace policies about employee behavior but also be proactive in discovering and trying to eliminate inappropriate behavior. This may mean training managers to confront problems before they escalate and having additional training for managers or supervisors to help them discover and address problems; additional employee monitoring might also be appropriate in some cases to ensure employees aren’t being targeted. In any case, it means taking action, even when doing so is difficult.