Performance Managing Employee Attitude

Performance management can be stressful even at the best of times. Sometimes we need to tell people they’re not working quickly enough, accurately enough, or productively enough. The challenge in those scenarios is to quantify and fully describe the issue, highlight the result we want to see, and then motivate and encourage change.

“They get people’s hackles up and drag down morale. They impede others’ success.”

But what about when an employee’s productivity, speed and accuracy meet expectations, but no one wants to work with them because they’re so unpleasant or difficult to be around? We’ve all encountered this type of person before. They get people’s hackles up and drag down morale. They impede others’ success. They come across as arrogant, blaming, stubborn or negative. In short, they have a “bad attitude.” This type of behaviour can quickly have a negative impact on the work environment, but as a manager, how can you give performance feedback on a bad attitude?

Let’s start with what “attitude: actually is.

adəˌt(y)o͞od/ (noun)

  • a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.
    “she took a tough attitude toward other people’s indulgences”
  • a position of the body proper to or implying an action or mental state.
    “he was slumped in his chair”


  • truculent or uncooperative behavior; a resentful or antagonistic
  • “I asked the waiter for a clean fork, and all I got was attitude”

The key to addressing a bad attitude is to identify the behaviours, both active and passive, verbal and non-verbal, that are the outward signs of underlying beliefs or attitudes.  We can’t insist someone change their mind, but we can identify expected behaviours that relate to their job and to organizational health and success.

Step 1: Describe the observable behaviour

Examples of verbal & active behaviours:

  • Volume and tone of voice
  • Gestures
  • Sounds – grunts, sighs, surprised/sarcastic squeals
  • “You/ he/ she” language – blaming
  • Unreliability – last minute cancellations/ being unprepared
  • Starting rumours/ gossiping

Examples of non-verbal & passive behaviours

  • Posture
  • Eye rolls, facial expressions
  • Arriving late/ leaving early
  • Withholding information to hamper others’ work
  • Not responding to requests from customers/ colleagues
  • Missing deadlines

Step 2: Define the impact

How are other employees or the organization affected? Impacts might include:

  • Lower productivity of individual
  • Distracting or impeding others
  • Poor morale
  • Informal accommodations that are unfair, such as accepting lateness or absences
  • Divided team = loss of synergies / creativity

Step 3: Address the problem

Talk to the employee, knowing that the discussion could lead to some revelations. Sometimes, “attitude” is a lack of self-awareness, so start by bringing the issue to the employee’s attention.  Describe the problem behaviour and its impact. Provide specific examples of what you no longer want to see/hear, and what you do want to see/hear instead. What will success look like? Secure a commitment to change.

Step 4: Provide consistent feedback

Moving forward, providing consistent and timely feedback is critical to encouraging and reinforcing changes. Acknowledge positive change quickly and specifically. Continue to point out instances of problematic behaviour and encourage the employee to keep working on improvements.

Discuss beforehand when and how will you provide feedback. On the spot? In private? Using specific language to denote certain habits or behaviours? Noticing and acknowledging desirable behaviours is very motivating for employees and helps to solidify new habits.

Choose when you will meet again to discuss progress.  Make notes of all changes and continue the process until the issues are resolved.

Your Engaged Assignment: When an employee’s work might be good, but they have a bad attitude, their difficult behaviour can interfere with the smooth functioning of your workplace. Is there a festering employee issue in your organization that has not been addressed because it isn’t a concrete performance problem? Take another look through the lens of observable behaviours and plan for a performance conversation today!

Not sure how to handle negative attitudes that impact your workplace?  We’ve got some best practice ideas and are here to support!