Everyone has worked with that person, the one who reheats fish in the microwave, the person who doesn’t prepare for meetings or the one who spends a lot of time sharing memes. As a coworker, you can try to ignore them, but as their manager, how do you handle an aggravating employee? Knowing how to deal with aggravating employees isn’t completely vital to the success of your business, but it’s worth talking about.

As a professional HR services firm, we like to tackle all problems, big and small. In our previous post about settling disputes through mediation,  we looked at how to determine whether a problem should be brought to the HR department. Now let’s look at those situations where you may need to mediate a non-serious issue you’re having with a subordinate.

What Are Typical Aggravating Behaviors in The Workplace?

Most people wouldn’t call themselves aggravating, most of the time, their aggravating behaviors have not been brought to their attention. These kinds of behaviors are repetitive, disruptive, and generally difficult for a coworker to point out.

You might have an employee who is always on their phone. Every time you pass their desk, this person is scrolling through Pinterest or texting. It’s even worse when their screen has shut down from disuse because that means they haven’t worked for at least a couple of minutes. It’s even worse when they have a project you’re waiting for that they’ve yet to complete.

Where Do Aggravating Behaviors Come From?

Maybe their productivity is so off the charts that they’re just coasting, but chances are there’s some sort of fundamental dysfunction with the way they view the job.

Maybe they’re not invested. This could just be a temporary thing in their mind- they’ve either found somewhere else or aren’t really invested in being kept around.

Maybe they’re just not self-aware. An employee may mistake casual conversation with a casual environment. If someone gets away with a joke, that means that all jokes at any time are now appropriate. These people are particularly difficult because their lack of social development means they can’t see the shades of gray. Attempts to correct their behavior will be seen as unfair or being singled-out because they can’t understand why their actions are different from others.

Understanding why a person is a way they are can be difficult, but it’s necessary because you’re not going to address their actions, you need to address the reason they feel the way they do.

How Do Aggravating Behaviors Foster?

As the boss, you want to foster an atmosphere where people feel comfortable being themselves around their coworkers and around you. You might talk sports with them, they might joke around with you. That’s great until you get someone who is unable to understand context. It’s easy for a co-worker or employee to overstep their bounds by:

  • Making snide comments during a presentation
  • Loudly eat during staff meetings
  • Talking loudly and disrupt others

This is an aggravating person who isn’t violating any rule or company guideline. If they were coming in a few minutes later every day or dressing outside of code, that’d be fantastic! You might be able to do something. But with people like this, what can say? “Grow up?”

How Can You Address Aggravating Behavior?

There are instances where aggravating behaviors can be natural to the person and they do them without even thinking (the pen tapers, nail-biters, etc.) but some actions have a root cause that needs to be addressed (spending a lot of time on the phone, constant talking or sharing of memes). Addressing the behavior means addressing the attitude, and this worker’s attitude reflects your leadership.

Innocent Aggravating Behaviors

Sometimes a person has zero self-awareness. We’ve all met these people. How did they survive this long? That’s a question for another blog. The question you want to be answered is, “What does this person have going for them that evens out the [uncomfortable situation]?”

You can absolutely get used to anything. Our brains are clever like that. Its why your eyes choose not to see your nose unless you look at it- even things right in front of your face can go unnoticed if they’re not important.

If someone is producing as they should, showing enthusiasm for their work, and otherwise following all company policies, you may not want to course-correct their behavior. Sure, “Jim,” thinks burping is hilarious, but he’s never taken a sick day and is at 158% of his annual goal. You know what? Burping is hilarious! Laugh about it while you sign his bonus check.

Aggravating Behaviors to Address

At its core, this is an issue about expectations. Ask yourself:

  • What expectations have you set for your workers?
  • Do your workers have the same priorities as you?
  • How do your workers perceive your working relationship? Does that perception align with your own?

If an employee is coasting, as in they’re too comfortable, they feel as though they’ve completed their job and have nothing else is expected of them. Maybe they hit a sales target or completed reports ahead of time. This employee feels completely secure and that, unfortunately, is being demonstrated by a lack of respect for you or others. Ask yourself why their behavior is so clearly tied to their success, and why their definition of success doesn’t include being professional in the workplace.

If a person already sees themselves as on the way out, they’ve basically removed any incentive to perform or behave. Employers see this a lot- if an employee begins acting very loose or apathetic, they may have found another position somewhere else. This will often be tied to a drop in productivity or failures to meet certain deadlines. What do either of those matter to someone who won’t be here?

This is difficult because you’re evaluating whether someone’s leaving before they tell you. This information is not something you typically want your employer to know ahead of time, so there aren’t many avenues open to an employer to find out. You’re better off reaching this conclusion through the process of elimination.

  1. This person needs to be the kind your industry considers valuable – Recent behavior aside, is this worker the kind that other people would want working for them?
  2. Is this a job someone would keep for a long time? – If your employees aren’t treated as long-term investments, they will leave, and some of them will act like this before they do.
  3. Look at where they are performance-wise – People who believe their time is coming to a close anyway may just give up. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You may have made it seem hopeless, or they aren’t being motivated properly.

If none of these seem right, they may very well have found a better position somewhere else. First of all, good for them! Secondly, why is it better? Does this other company see something you don’t, or are offering people less than they’re worth? An employee leaving for better things is an opportunity to evaluate the kind package you’re offering.

Ultimately, we all have to learn to live with each other. But we don’t need to work together. As you craft company culture set your expectations not just for strict company policy, but also what kind of attitudes you want to see. It’s okay to not like an employee, but understand that they can only exist if the environment allows it. They’re a product of their environment, which is a product of you.

Thank you so much for reading. If you have any comments or questions, give us a shout. We’re extremely passionate about creating safe, functional workplaces and would love work with you.