When an employee exhibits persistent anger it becomes the supervisor's job to address the behavior, especially if it is affecting the employee's productivity or the productivity of others. You may understand the reasons behind the anger, and even feel a degree of empathy, but failure to address the problem is likely to see it continue.
Take the case of one angry employee: we'll call him Craig. For the third time in two months, Craig has become upset when his manager approached him about his declining performance. The first time, he stormed out of the room. The second time he raised his voice and slammed the door on his way out. Most recently, he used profanity, pounded his fist on his boss's desk and said, "I won't let anyone treat me this way!" The manager is beginning to worry that Craig might become violent.
How would you respond?
Option 1. You don't want to make matters worse, so you decide to take no action for now. Of course, you will monitor the situation, documenting your concerns as you go.
Option 2. You decide to speak to him again but to focus on his declining performance and to postpone a discussion about his conduct.
Option 3. You decide that his conduct is as much of a workplace issue as his performance, so you confront Craig with specific instances of his inappropriate behavior. At the same time, you discuss his declining performance, outlining ways to improve. This includes a discussion of the consequences if both performance and conduct do not improve.
None of these options is ideal. Why? Ideally, the supervisor would have spoken to Craig at the outset, when he stormed out of the room. Had Craig's inappropriate conduct been addressed immediately, the supervisor might have been able to prevent an escalation of the anger and would have been able to focus on his performance.
If the problem persists as it did in this example, Option 3 is the best way to proceed. Conduct is as important as performance in the workplace, and a threatening manner can't be ignored. And while documenting Craig's behavior is a good step to take, safety comes first. If you are fearful that Craig may "explode", have someone else in the room with you or even alert security in case you need to call them.
Here are a few additional tips to consider before taking action:
1. Brief your supervisor on what you have observed and invite any input that he or she may provide.
2. Consult your HR manager, who may be able to provide you with step-by-step coaching on documenting your observations and communicating your expectations of changed behavior.
3. Contact your EAP for a consultation and assistance. You may find you, too, are angry as a result of the situation and would like to talk through the issue with a third-party before you take any action.
We have recently updated our Guide to Assisting the Troubled Employee. Written by Don Phillips, the guide provides an overview of COPE's EAP, identifies common workplace challenges associated with troubled employees, and provides helpful DOs and DON'Ts when addressing an issue.
To read it click here.
If you have questions about the referral process in general, or would like to discuss a particular challenge, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.