Mutual respect—the appreciation, consideration, courtesy, kindness, trust, and patience we offer to others—is a crucial key to a successful team, no matter the industry. However, when employees display disrespect in any form, the entire team and organization can suffer. Disrespect can happen between manager and employee, between employees, or between both the manager and other employees. No matter how, when, or with whom it happens, disrespect in the workplace is toxic.
Signs of a Disrespectful Employee
Since each team member is unique, each one will bring different perspectives, ideals, experiences, and values to the team table, all of these characteristics can be manifested through their individual behaviors and ways of interacting with others. Keeping this in mind, how do you know when an employee is simply being themselves or they’re actually exhibiting disrespectful behaviors? Here are some signs to look for, and since some are more subtle than others—and could potentially fly under the “disrespectful behavior radar,” it’s crucial to understand and be vigilant in watching for these signs:
- Angry or rude outbursts
- Fault Finding
- Insulting remarks or jokes
- Criticizing or being sarcastic
- Stubbornness when it comes to completing tasks
- Chronic lateness
- Resisting collaborations
If, after looking at this list, you feel a bit disrespectful yourself, remember that no one—neither you nor your employees—is perfect, we can all have a bad day here and there, and those bad days might reflect some disrespectful behaviors. But when an employee is chronically exhibiting any number of these behaviors, it’s time to take action. But before we share our tips for handling disrespectful employees, what are the potential costs of disrespectful team members? You might be surprised.
The Potential Costs of Disrespectful Employees
No matter if the disrespectful behavior is between a manager and an employee, or between employees, or both, the effects of any disrespect-related conflict can affect the entire team and potentially even the entire organization if the issue isn’t dealt with. One study performed across 17 different industries found the following ramifications of a disrespectful employee. Of those surveyed...
- 80% felt they lost work time
- 66% felt their performance declined
- 63% lost work time trying to avoid the disrespectful person
- 50% decreased their work time
- 25% admitted taking their frustrations out on customers
- 12% left their jobs due to this issue
What do these findings mean for companies in cold, hard cash? Another study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found the following concerning the financial impact of disrespectful employees:
“This kind of interpersonal aggression costs organizations about $6 billion each year in health problems, employee turnover and productivity loss.”
But...what if a disrespectful team member is a top producer? If working with this employee to eliminate any disrespectful behaviors isn’t successful, you’ll need to weigh the risks vs. the benefits of keeping this employee, and more often than not, the benefits will probably outweigh the risks now and in the future.
Terminating employees is difficult and hopefully the last resort, but there are some things you can do to try and help a disrespectful employee turn over a new leaf—to become a respectful employee and higher contributing team member.
8 Tips for Handling Disrespectful Employees
The most important thing to remember when working with a disrespectful employee is that you’ll need the employee’s buy-in for any of these tips we’re sharing to work, so the first step is to have a kind, honest, and direct conversation with the employee, not to accuse them of unwanted behaviors, but to share with them what you’re seeing and to explain why these behaviors aren’t acceptable. And in order for this behavior-changing process to work, the first two tips are for you—the manager—to keep in mind.
Tip #1. Realize that respect might need to be earned first. While we hope respect among you and your team is somewhat automatic, be careful not to make this assumption. Depending on their backgrounds, you might need to earn that all-important respect, especially with employees who are exhibiting disrespectful behaviors. How do you do this? By being kind, considerate, understanding, empathetic, trustworthy, and so on, and following The Golden Rule—“Treat others the way you want to be treated”—can be helpful too.
Tip #2. Check yourself and your own behaviors and attitudes often. Ensuring that the workplace becomes and stays non-toxic needs to start with you—the manager. If you expect your team to be respectful, then it’s crucial that you lead by example.
Tip #3. Try to determine the cause for the behavior. Speak with the employee to try get to the reasons behind the disrespectful behavior and listen carefully to what they share. Are they having difficulties at work you’re not aware of? Are there issues at home? Are they dealing with some sort of crisis? Until you understand the causes behind the behavior, it’s difficult to come up with possible solutions.
Want to increase your listening skills? Get 8 tips for becoming a better listener here.
Tip #4. Take the offensive. Don’t wait for issues to arrive. Be vigilant about noticing signs of disrespect early and then address them ASAP. The problem probably won’t go away on its own, so early intervention is crucial. As mentioned before, it’s important to involve the employee in creating any plans to help change the behavior, and getting their buy-in is crucial before proceeding. And remember: The longer you wait, the greater the negative effect a toxic team member will have on the entire team. Including you.
Tip #5. Check-in often. Simply putting a plan in place usually won’t solve the problem, so it’s important to check-in regularly with the employee and make sure they know you’re open to honest and vulnerable discussions. Showing you care about them and their well-being can go a long way towards getting the results you both (hopefully) want: A respectful team member.
Tip #6. Provide training that teaches employees how to be respectful. Some employees might not understand what it means to be disrespectful and how disrespect can affect others on the team. Even if employees are respectful, learning more about respect and the value of respect as a team can go a long way to creating and nurturing a strong team culture.
Continuing employee education is one key to creating a strong team culture. Get more tips for creating a strong culture on your team here.
Tip #7. Document ALL interactions with a disrespectful employee. While the ultimate goal is for the employee to turn over that new leaf, it’s wise to be prepared in case this doesn’t happen, especially if termination becomes necessary. Be sure to carefully document all conversations and save emails, texts, and chats in case that employee needs to be let go, even if you’re not sure an interaction is important. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Tip #8. Know when to involve HR for intervention or potential termination. It’s best to keep issues within the team whenever possible as this can strengthen team culture and increase respect and trust within the team. However, if you need additional guidance when working with an employee or if your attempts to help a disrespectful employee aren’t working, reach out to your HR department for guidance. HR involvement is especially important when termination becomes the only solution to the problem.
Disrespectful employees can be toxic in the workplace and especially to your team. But just because a team member exhibits this type of behavior doesn’t mean termination is the answer. With the 8 tips we’ve shared and some time and concentrated effort on your part, a disrespectful employee—who wants to change—can become a prized and highly productive member of your team.