(Written by Janice Lieber, FEI EAP Counselor)

When we think of “disruptive employees,” most of us imagine an employee who bullies their peers; is narcissistic and has to be right about everything; who dominates conversations and pushes for their concepts to be welcomed by the group; who incites peers’ anger but then steps to the back of the pack; or who undermines the leader quietly.

But have you ever thought about the employee who comes back from breaks late, calls in sick frequently (and maybe uses FMLA to assist them in their deception), pushes the sick leave policy to the max or arrives late and leaves early? Someone who elevates themselves to a high level of importance but gets little work done compared to peers, has a bad attitude and grumbles and groans about work? In response, there can often be whispered conversations between coworkers who are conscientious about workload, punctuality, professionalism and integrity.

As team leader or manager, you must recognize disruptive employees and deal with their behaviors by first documenting occurrence and discussing with them the issues that concern you. This should be done away from staff, preferably in a conference area so as to leverage your seniority. When meeting, consider the following steps to ensure engagement and a constructive outcome:

  • Identify some positive skills the disruptive employee has and the areas you’ve noticed you want improved. Be prepared for the employee to make excuses and reasons for their behavior by having counterarguments to those excuses.
  • Coach the employee on ways to change behaviors or how to approach other people. Have them contact you, the team lead or manager, to address concerns in order to dissuade them from complaining instead to their peers.
  • Review with the employee what they understand and make sure you have been heard.
  • Ask the employee to review what steps they will take in the future to make behavioral changes you’ve identified as needing change immediately and that you will be reviewing with them in two weeks. Schedule the follow-up meeting and provide feedback at that time as to the employee’s progress.
  • Reaffirm expectations and steps you’ve observed the employee take towards the goals you’d both established. If you require human resources to step in, definitely consider them as a means to reaffirm the expectations and changes that must occur in the employee.
  • Document, document, document! Document dates, times, the process and results the employee achieves. You can have a discussion about when you believe changes must occur and then follow up on those changes.

Many will accept coaching to change behavior, but others will only hear criticism. When an employee still doesn’t change behaviors that are negatively affecting the team, a corrective action plan must be put in place to identify behaviors requiring change, how those behaviors are to change and the timeframe within which changes are expected to occur. Document meetings, what was discussed and the deadlines established, as this will provide human resources the information required if the situation needs to escalate to their department.

Your human resource expert can assist you in a variety of ways, including crafting documents. Your team becomes more cohesive and functional if you address these types of disruptive employees early on. Do not wait until everyone becomes aware of negatively impacting work behavior.