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  • Jeffrey Pigg

When you have a great employee with a bad attitude

The importance of maintaining a positive and inspiring working environment has been well-documented. A positive culture is typically highly productive, inherently collaborative and very efficient. At the same time, we all know the cost of employee turnover. The price goes up considerably if you’re trying to replace someone who is great at their job or offers a specialized skill set.

So what happens when you have a great employee with a bad attitude?

Hardly seems like an issue that would concern your typical CFO, right? Wrong. A good CFO is more than someone who manages head count and employee cost. A good CFO understands how all the dynamics within the business, financial and non-financial, impact the overall health and well-being of the company. As part of our clients’ management teams, the CFOs at Kaplan CFO Solutions are often asked to weigh in on personnel issues. I’ve always found the situation above especially interesting. Here are my thoughts.

First, nobody likes to fire another person. It is, in most cases, uncomfortable and unpleasant. It can also be expensive; not only in terms of severance compensation, but in the cost of hiring and training a new employee. Therefore, most organizations will do whatever they can in order to keep a productive employee. However this can often be the wrong answer as negative attitudes can quickly spread, lowering morale and polluting the culture of the whole organization.

According to Roxanne Emmerich, author of, Thank God It's Monday: How to Create a Workplace You and Your Customers Love, More than 91% of people spend a large portion of their day frustrated by their co-worker's dysfunctional behaviors, and regularly think about quitting their jobs. So what do you do?

Assess the potential for damage

When faced with this situation, the manager or HR staff must look at the position and the employee. One good question to ask is how many people does this employee interact with in a day? If the employee truly does not interact with others, then the risk is limited.

But if the employee has to interact with others on a daily basis, the situation becomes more complex. Now, you have to think in terms of damage control. Who will likely come in contact with the negative employee? Are they positive enough in their own outlook to be able to ignore the negativity? Even if they are, is it fair to subject them to this behavior? Do you risk losing them?

Once you’re able to look at the situation objectively and from the standpoint of what is in the best interest of the entire organization, you’re better able to make the right decision for the right reasons.

Address the issue openly, quickly and thoroughly

Most supervisors and owners don’t enjoy speaking with the individual with the poor attitude for the same reason they don’t relish the thought of firing someone—it can be difficult and uncomfortable. That’s why, unless the employee has acted so egregiously that termination is the only real option, I recommend a direct an thorough conversation with the employee about their unacceptable behavior. If it can’t be fixed, it may less expensive to terminate one person than to repair the long term effects of a negative culture. Many times, however, this provides a growth opportunity—for management, the employee and the organization.

This is also an opportunity to dialogue with the entire organization in order to promote a stronger culture. In her blog on, Barbara Bartlein suggests, “Organizations can improve their cultures by openly addressing negativity and making it clear what types of behaviors are expected. Rather than pushing dissent underground, it is much more positive to flush it out and deal with issues directly.”

Underlying all this is the notion that your company is not made up of un-related parts and interactions. A change in attitude, even if it’s just one person, has the potential to significantly affect multiple others. Personnel decisions must be made with an understanding of how it will affect the whole company.


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