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5 Tips for Handling an Employee With “Attitude”

Jun 18, 2015

Employers often feel trapped when dealing with attitudes of entitlement among their staff members. They endure offensive demeanors to avoid the hassles of retraining new staff, wrongful termination lawsuits and defensive hostile reactions from would-be terminated employees.

Consider the example of Sherrie, a 25-year-old woman who works in the accounting department of a medical supplies company.

Sherrie receives a generous salary for her few years of experience, along with a considerable benefits package. Soon after joining the company, Sherrie began coming in late to the office, at least, a few times a week. When her supervisor confronted her about her repeated tardiness, she became defensive, stating that since she can’t control the traffic she should not be penalized for coming in “a few minutes late.” For the rest of the day, Sherrie pouted at her desk, was generally unfriendly and behaved like a victim of unfair criticism.

On another occasion, she was asked to stay an hour past her normal quitting time. She refused on the grounds that she was not given enough notice and that she’d already made other plans that were “unbreakable.” When her manager commented on her unwillingness to help out, Sherrie explained that she felt she should be paid more if she was expected to do the work of other employees. In spite of her mediocre job performance, Sherrie expected to receive a large bonus at the end of the year. When her supervisor explained that her bonus was based on job performance and that Sherrie would not be receiving one, Sherrie claimed she was being treated unfairly. Regardless of how she performed her duties, she believed she was entitled to a large bonus and special consideration for things like tardiness and absenteeism. She ultimately decided to quit her job without giving notice.

Sadly, Sherrie’s attitude of entitlement is not a rarity in the workforce of today, particularly among employees under the age of 30. Employers often find themselves playing the part of “cheerleader” with staff members like Sherrie. They fear negative reactions to criticism and tolerate mediocre job performances to avoid dealing with their employees’ poor attitudes.

Fortunately, reversing course with problem staffers is not as difficult as some employers may think. The following are five easy-to-master tips that can turn around negative attitudes and allow employers to assume their proper roles in the workplace:

  1. Establish the relationship with each staff member from the very beginning. Employers should not concern themselves with being friends with their employees. In fact, doing so promotes a dysfunctional workplace where roles are ill defined. This leads to power struggles, resentment and possibly stomach ulcers! Employers need to make it clear that relationships with their staff members will, in no way, resemble peer relationships. The relationship between employer and employee works best when the relationship is kind but formal as opposed to friend-like and casual.
  1. Don’t over thank employees for doing the jobs they’ve been hired to do. It is fine to express words of appreciation for exceptional job performance from time to time, but it should not be routine. Compliments and words of affirmation mean much more when they are earned. There is a school of thought that for every criticism an employee receives five positive pieces of feedback should follow. Frankly, this practice is questionable at best. It’s important that employees grasp the principal message employers are trying to convey. If employers want to deliver a clear message, disguising it with fluffy compliments will have the opposite effect.
  1. Minimize emotional communication. Less is more when it comes to emotional exchanges between employers and staff. Consider this example of a corrective message delivered emotionally with a pleading tone: “I really, really need you to be on time from now on. I know it’s hard with the traffic and all, but please try to be on time.” Now read the same message but delivered unemotionally: “You have not demonstrated that being on time is your priority. I expect you to correct that immediately.” The second example is not harsh, hostile or overly critical. It is simply an honest observation with a clear directive. The first example puts the employer in the role of a child asking for something from an adult. The second example reinforces appropriate roles.
  1. Don’t be arrogant or unkind to exert your power. Employers who behave like they are above the need to be courteous only succeed in provoking feelings of resentment and defiant behavior and can compromise employees’ overall efforts to please the employer.
  1. Don’t give universal rewards. Many employers make the mistake of giving all staff members the same reward even when individual performances vary tremendously. For example, if an employer gives each of his sales staff a $500 gift card when only a few employees earned the reward, it may demoralize those who worked hard enough to earn the reward and reinforce the entitled attitude of those who did not. Individual incentives tend to encourage extra effort while group incentives allow slackers to ride on the coattails of others. Group rewards have the potential to further reinforce attitudes of entitlement.

A rule of thumb for employers is to always make their expectations clear, not just with regard to job duties, but also concerning attitude. While changing the culture in any work environment can be difficult and uncomfortable, it is likely to be worth the effort. Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.


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