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Symmetry Video Series


Motivating Employees: HR tips for getting employees motivated and engaged with your company.

Bad Attitude? You’re Fired!

Jill does her job, but just barely.  However, Jill has a lousy attitude which is affecting the entire team.  You would like to fire Jill, but she isn’t quite doing enough to get fired.  Does this sound familiar? 

It happens in almost every environment – sometimes Jill was one of your first employees and she was so valuable when you started but hasn’t adjusted to all the change as you’ve grown.  Other times it I as simple as that pessimist attitude.  So what are you to do? 

The good news is, you can fire for attitude, but it requires identifying the attitude and addressing the actual behavior.

To start, if the employee doesn’t know that you are not happy with their attitude, than you must tell them.  They can’t be responsible if they don’t know that they are creating a problem.  You can fire them for the bad attitude, but when you speak to the employee you need to be more descriptive about what exactly they are doing it and when.  Use the 5 W’s when you put this all together – who, what, when, where, and why.

Your initial conversation might sound like this, “Jill, when Mary asked you for help, you seemed irritated with her, which is causing people to go around you for help.”  Or “When you confronted Mary about Susan’s work yesterday, isn’t a productive use of your time and your co-workers are becoming distressed by your behavior.”  

And then you should ideally explain what you expect of Jill.  “You are an important part of this team and every member of this team needs a can-do attitude and willingness to accept their teammates and not do things that undermine the team.”   Be sure to document when you have this conversation – date, time and place and tuck it into the employee’s personnel file.

If the problem is severe enough that it could lead to replacement on the team or even termination, it is important to share that with your employee.  “I want to be clear that this is important enough that without significant improvement immediately, we will need to move you out of this role or take the steps to go through a Performance Improvement Plan which can lead to your termination.”

Once you have the conversation you should expect that the behavior improve quickly.  It should not take days, weeks or even months.  If for some reason the problem continues, then your next conversation is the natural evolution of what you’ve already discussed, “We talked two weeks ago about the fact that your if behavior with your colleagues doesn’t change, we will need to move you onto a Performance Improvement Plan.”

Performance Improvement Plans (PIP’s) should not be looked at 30, 60 or even 90-days for the employee to find a new opportunity outside of your company, it should be looked at as a way to get your employee on track and working the way you need them to work.  And the PIP should also not be seen as probation – because this behavior needs to improve and remain good for the duration of their employment with your company.

Document your previous conversation, “On January 1, Jill and Manager met at 3 PM and discussed that Jill needed to be a more productive member of the team, by respecting her teammates and being helpful when her help was asked for.”  Then add the more recent infractions as bullet points.  Again, remember those five W’s.

Make sure when you present the PIP you do it where you will not be interrupted (turn off your cell phone) and bring two copies of the PIP with you.  Offer the employee the opportunity to write a response or present their side of the story.  It shows that you care about what they say – even if you may not.  Have them sign the copy as a form of acknowledgement, not necessarily as a form of admission of guilt.  If they refuse to sign, just write that on the signature line.  And store the signed copy in their employee file. 

The most important part of the PIP process is the follow-up.  Make uninterrupted time to meet with the employee.  It should be predetermined as part of the administering the PIP.  A good follow-up plan is to meet with the employee in one week and discuss with them how it is going.  If it is progressing well, the next meeting should be in two weeks and then a month later. 

If the behavior still isn’t improving, be sure to share with the employee that it isn’t progressing the way it should be and how you would like to see them change their behavior.  Often the bad attitude can change from being short with people to just being negative or vice versa.  Regardless, it is still a bad attitude and a violation of the PIP. 

The toughest part of this process is following through.  If there are continued relapses in behavior, it is important to terminate even if you are through the PIP process and the behavior comes back in three months.  Remember that an employee’s behavior affects your entire team.  If they see you tolerate someone’s bad behavior, it can be an invitation for other employees to emulate that behavior which could absolutely destroy morale and the company culture you work so hard to foster.

Understanding that is can be difficult to be confrontational with employees, many managers may want to skip one or several parts of these steps choosing to view the behavior as something that will go away or it will be worked out.  Particularly if you know they are going through a tough time at home.  However, the truth is, it is really more like a Chinese Water Torture and finally a drop will move you immediately to termination and you are not legally protected without the progressive discipline. 

Going through the entire process has many benefits some of which are:

  • The person isn’t blindsided, which means it’s kinder and more fair;
  • The person isn’t blindsided, which means they’re less likely to assume the “real” reason for their termination is something nefarious (i.e., illegal) and decide to sue;
  • You won’t end up struggling to figure out how to have the termination conversation; it’ll be a natural outgrowth of an earlier meeting;
  • Your other employees will appreciate that you want a positive work environment;
  • Other staff members won’t start to worry that they too could be fired out of the blue one day; people will know they’ll be warned ahead of time if their job is in jeopardy