What Do We Do About Bickering Employees?

January 30, 2014

Dear Frazzled:

You might be closer to losing it than you think. Several factors are at work which, if not addressed, can severely undermine your leaders’ ability to lead.

Someone might wonder how the actions of two bickering employees could impact an entire professional environment in an office. The adage, “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel,” is in fact true. The failure of management to address aberrant behavior, even among two individuals, hinders the ability of managers to influence the behavior across the entire company. While I’m sure that the manager of these difficult people would prefer to not have to deal with them, failing to do so has ramifications that will be widely felt.

You seem to be facing a situation that has gone on for some time. The pattern of behavior of these workers is apparently known by many people, and the fact that warnings of disciplinary action are being ignored is not lost on the other employees in the area. Questions emerge as to why something is not being done. Are these two workers “policy favorites” of the managers? If so, perceptions of favoritism can ripple through the workforce. (At a time where the company may be asking workers to do more and to sacrifice more, those who feel that they are being treated unfairly are much less likely to take that extra step for the benefit of the company).

But perhaps favoritism isn’t the issue, but rather a perceived lack of control. Employees expect either individual managers or top executives to exert control of the work environment. Culture drives behavior. Most people act with integrity and strive to do the right thing, but if the social norms run contrary to good intentions, even the best employees may fall victim to the lowest-common-denominator syndrome.

The opposite is not micromanagement or a command-and-control environment. Employees want managers who are fair, willing to listen and trusted to make the right decisions. They expect leaders to set the tone.

SOURCE: David Gebler, Skout Group, Sharon, Massachusetts, Dec. 13, 2013.