Nobody wants to have to work with someone who has a bad attitude. Unfortunately, personal problems, health issues or even frustration with office procedures can cause a worker to engage in negative behaviors. Taking the time to meet with a worker, express your concerns and listen to what is upsetting them can often have a huge impact on their attitude and future behavior.

Avoid Making Assumptions

If you've received a complaint letter about an employee attitude or have witnessed poor behavior firsthand, it can be easy to make assumptions about the reasons for the bad behavior. Some reasons for a "bad attitude" might include:

  • Family or personal problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Health problems
  • Frustration with coworkers or supervisors
  • Being bullied in the workplace

You may be more effective at helping an employee change his behavior if you make it clear you are willing to listen with an open mind.

Meet Employee Face-to-Face

When discussing negative attitudes and behaviors with an employee, it's important to request an in-person meeting.

Not only is meeting face-to-face more professional, it gives both you and the worker the opportunity to observe each other's body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.

This can reduce the possibility of misunderstandings that could potentially make the situation worse.

Address Behaviors, Not Attitudes

While you may be dismayed by an employee's attitude, many experts advise not framing the discussion around "attitude" but making it about actual behaviors.

Prepare for your meeting with concrete examples of how the employee's behavior has had a negative impact on her productivity, workplace relationships or office morale.

Sample Warning Letter

A warning letter can be as simple as this sample warning letter to an employee for a bad attitude:

Helen, I'd like to discuss your behavior in department meetings. While feedback is always appreciated, your communication style can be somewhat combative. Last week, for example, when Bill suggested having the office party at the forest preserve, you declared that that was a "stupid idea" and that you couldn't believe that he would suggest something like that. I want to foster a positive work environment and that can't happen if my employees can't speak respectfully to each other. I'd like to discuss ways that you could temper your communications.

Be Willing to Listen

When you meet with an employee about a performance issue with the intention of retaining the employee, it is critical that you listen to what the employee has to say about the situation. To the extent that you are able, it's important that you provide guidance and support so that the worker is empowered to make decisions that will lead to improvement.

Develop a Plan of Action

After talking with the employee, work together to develop a plan of action. You can use the information the employee gave you to provide guidance and set goals for improved workplace behavior. For example, if the employee indicates that there are serious problems at home that have led to irritability, you might refer the worker to your employee assistance program or recommend that the employee seek counseling.

Other approaches might include teaming the employee with a coworker for role-playing, recommending appropriate reading material that could suggest improved communication skills or mediating between employees to improve relationships.

This plan should be put into writing and signed by each party. The employee should retain a copy and another copy should be placed in the employee's personnel file.

Compose Failure to Perform Job Duties Letter

If the employee's attitude does not improve, you may need to take further action. If you are not ready to discharge the employee, meet with her and then complete a failure to perform job duties letter that outlines the continued problems and explains the possible consequences of a worker's failure to address attitude and behavioral issues.