December 5, 2022

Small Business Advice

Bad Employees

Jerry Osteryoung | 9/2/2008

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
— Nelson Mandela

In a recent newspaper, there was a full-page ad by that simply said, “Bad employees have a way of making good employees bad!” Of course, CareerBuilder’s ultimate motive was to get employers to use their site to find workers; however, their message could not have been more perfect. Badly behaved workers are, in fact, a contagious disease. If you ignore the bad behavior, it will infect the whole body and eventually destroy it.

The question that most entrepreneurs and managers have is, “What is a bad employee?” This is often a complicated question to answer as one size does not fit all. For instance, some might say a bad employee is one who just does not achieve the required goals. However, with this kind of non-achiever, it is pretty easy to identify the problem and then develop a plan to ensure that the employee meets the goals.

Employees with bad attitudes are frequently the most difficult to judge. Generally, these employees do an adequate job, but they inject poison into the entire organization destroying morale. In cases like these, it is hard to zero in on what is wrong, but it is obvious that the employee is not right for the organization.

Other typical problems are workers who always come in late and workers who harass their colleagues. In these cases, your gut reaction is probably the best indicator. The bottom line is that there is a myriad of traits that can indicate a problem worker.

Many entrepreneurs leave the problem employee alone, simply hoping that the behavior will go away, because they just do not know what to do. However, if ignored, the problem will fester and grow until the entrepreneur can no longer deny it. At this point, the entrepreneur will be forced to take action.

In many cases, bad employees do not have to become or remain bad employees. By far, the best thing you can do when you recognize that there is an issue with an employee is sit them down and clearly explain why their behavior is a problem. Often it just has not occurred to the employee that their conduct is harming the organization and their colleagues. On countless occasions I have seen this simple step stop the problem from developing further.

Another method that works with problem employees is assigning them a mentor to coach them through their work issues. The mentor must clearly understand the employee’s issues and the goals you are aiming for.

If the problem is severe enough to warrant punishment, the penalty should be customized to the employee as well as to the infraction. For example, if an employee is frequently out on sick leave on Fridays, you must first tell them that the behavior is unacceptable. Secondly, you must tell them what the punishment will be if the behavior continues. Finally, you must document every behavioral issue that you deal with.

Bottom line: before you allow an employee’s bad behavior to turn them into a bad employee, you need to take the necessary steps to see if it can be corrected. So often conduct can be changed easily if you just take the time to address it squarely.

Now go out and make sure you have a plan in place to deal with unwanted employee behaviors.

You can do this!

Jerry Osteryoung is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at FSU and Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 850-644-3372.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Entrepreneur

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