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Disrespectful Employees? How to Fix a Toxic Workplace

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Employees who are treated poorly by co-workers end up feeling entitled to treat others the same way. Here's how to stop it.

  • Disrespectful employees can have a negative impact on the workplace.
  • There are some important steps you should take with a disrespectful employee.
  • Document employees well because they are not always easy to fire.

Employees who are disrespected by their co-workers feel more comfortable treating others the same way, and they end up creating a very toxic workplace, new research finds.

The problem stems from one employee undermining another, found a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. KiYoung Lee, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo School of Management in New York, said undermining is intentional behavior that hinders other employees from achieving workplace success or establishing and maintaining positive relationships at work. Examples include giving a co-worker the silent treatment, belittling a co-worker's ideas in front of others or purposely withholding information to delay the progress of a colleague.

"This kind of interpersonal aggression costs organizations about $6 billion each year in health problems, employee turnover and productivity loss," Lee said in a statement.

As a part of the study, researchers conducted two rounds of surveys of 182 employees at 25 branches of two Korean banks to measure whether those who had been the victim of undermining would later become perpetrators. [See Related Story: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com]

The first survey examined employees' levels of undermining victimization, moral identity and interpersonal justice. The second survey, conducted one month later, measured employees' levels of moral disengagement, resource depletion and engagement in social undermining.

The researchers found that when employees felt they'd been treated disrespectfully, they became more selfish because of the perception of unfairness. Lee said these workers felt as if they had suffered enough and so they were entitled to be selfish.

"When we become selfish, it is much easier to justify our own [undermining] toward others," Lee said. "We use this to justify our actions, for instance, by calling undermining 'part of the game.'"

The study was co-authored by Eugene Kim, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Devasheesh Bhave, an assistant professor at Singapore Management University; and Michelle Duffy, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

What is disrespectful behavior in the workplace?

Disrespectful behavior in the workplace is any kind behavior that is unprofessional, inappropriate, rude, unpleasant, disturbing or offensive. This type of behavior tends to hurt others and cause stress.

Disrespectful behavior can fall into several categories. Uncivil behavior shows total disregard for others. Verbal abuse is harsh and insulting language. Abrasive behavior causes enough emotional distress that it disrupts the effectiveness of the organization. And bullying behavior is repeated negative actions toward specific people that results in a toxic workplace environment and causes a shift in power.

How to prevent disrespectful behavior in the workplace

The key to stopping the spread of poor behavior is to hire employees with high moral character, Lee said.

"When employees have high moral identity, they are not susceptible to this process," he said.

In addition, employers can limit undermining in the workplace by emphasizing moral values within the organization, he said.

"They can provide more ethics training, or they can try to create an office environment where moral values are more salient," Lee said. "Simply displaying posters and slogans with moral values will also be very helpful, because it activates more [moral] identity in employees' minds."

How do you deal with disrespectful employees?

Here are some methods you can try if you have disrespectful employees in your workplace:

Listen. Sometimes, it can seem easier to ignore a person's bad behavior than to interact with that person. When you start listening to what that person is saying, however, you may find that there are problems you can address.

Provide clear feedback. Instead of complaining about disrespectful employees, give them feedback. Explain what the issues are and how they need to improve. Be clear about what needs to change and how they can make those changes.

Document incidents. Keep clear records of the employee's disrespectful behavior because you may need the documentation later, especially if the employee takes legal action.

Be consistent. Be consistent when you set guidelines for employees. For example, establish an expectation that a task be done on a specific day of each week. If the task is not done, then your reaction must be the same every time. You cannot excuse it one week but get angry the next.

Enforce rules. Establish what the consequences will be for disrespectful employees if they do not change their behavior. Set expectations for improvement, and outline what the consequences will be if those expectations are not met. If the employee continues to be disrespectful, make sure to follow through with those consequences.

Can you fire an employee for being disrespectful?

The short answer is yes, you can fire an employee for disrespectful behavior. However, it is not always easy to do so. You have to use the human resources department of your business to help you terminate an employee. You will need to document everything the employee is doing wrong. You also need to record what you have done to work with the employee to improve the behavior.

An employee who is fired may decide to sue the company, which is why it's important to document all incidents of bad behavior. In addition, make sure you treat all of your employees the same way or else the employee could make discrimination claims.

Image Credit: MachineHeadz / Getty Images
Business News Daily Editor
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