We like to think that our workplace can be inviting, like a second home. It’s where we spend a lot of our time, so we want it to be free from hostility. Although we generally aspire to make our workplaces welcoming, there may be people—or just that one person—who make it anything but welcoming for everyone else. Disgruntled employees are more common than we would like to believe, but alas, they are there making your life a living hell.
There are many reasons why your coworkers or employees can be standoffish, antagonistic or hostile. Getting down to the reason for the attitude is key to defusing the situation. The employee may have a reasonable explanation. Maybe it’s a policy at work they don’t agree with, or it could be an issue from home that is overwhelming them. So what do you, as a supervisor, do? You have a good reason to terminate the employee, but assuming they are a star player, you have just as good a reason to keep them. As you would with any other problem, you want to evaluate the entire situation, weigh all options on how to handle the employee and understand the potential consequences.
However, as you assess the situation, you will always have to keep in mind that termination may be the only realistic solution and the action that you will have to take to fix your office culture. When an employee has made the office hell for everyone, you will go through three stages as a supervisor to make the workplace normal again. And sometimes the hardest solution is the best one for everyone else, as the scenario below describes.
Tensions in the Workplace
Teamwork is vital for any workplace. You want employees who support one another and represent the company in a positive manner. When a coworker has an attitude with, for example, a client or a demeanor that is not representative of the company, tensions will certainly rise because the issue now affects you and everybody else in the workplace, as well as clients. The employee’s job is to be able to deal with clients as respectfully as anyone else would, but they are handling clients in the wrong way, which doesn’t make your company look professional—at all.
Your initial instinct is to confront the employee and their insufferable attitude. You want to get to the bottom of the issue, resolve it and get on with your day. But when you speak to the employee, they become argumentative with you. They are unwilling to work with you. They’re mad and you don’t know why. Are they mad that they didn’t get a promotion, even though they stated they were comfortable where they were at? Are they overworked? Is something going on with them and their spouse? Maybe all they need is a little emotional support. Or maybe it has gone far beyond that. It’s for you to find out.
Weighing the Risks
After being unable to solve the tension that this employee is creating, it really comes down to one question for you: Are they worth keeping? Perhaps you spent time and money for an outside professional advisor and consultants to reshape the attitude of this employee—which only worked for a little while.
You have exhausted all reasonable ways to resolve the hostility created by the employee. Meanwhile, others have described confrontations they had with the individual and what they believed should be done about it. You have concluded the problem is not salvageable, and there is no way you can mend the situation for it to work out for all parties involved. You want to help the employee, but it’s becoming strikingly clear that you will never be able to. You start to think maybe it’s time to move on.
Boosting Work Morale
Holding on to the employee for their experience and expertise does not outweigh the possible boost in workplace morale that would be created if they left. Life without the individual may be the most refreshing outcome for the office. So you make your decision. You may be worried about the workload for everyone else while you hurry to find a replacement. But the negativity in the office has been drained, and there is no longer a phantom behind your back as you go about your day.
In addition to getting the workload covered and hiring new employees, there may be the fear of a lawsuit from the terminated employee. The hard decision takes courage, confidence and a leap of fate that life will be better—and it is. Even though the employee was a star player, cutting them was the best choice for your team’s success.