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How to Change an Employee’s Negative Behaviors

If your employees aren’t behaving in a way you would like, you have two choices: fire and replace them or try to change their behavior. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re acting unprofessional or are unproductive, but it may mean they approach tasks with a defeatist attitude or don’t seem to have good morale.

Sometimes, it’s just one employee with this type of attitude, but that can be all it takes. Negative behaviors and attitudes can be contagious, and before long, your entire office may be expressing this negative behavior. That can jeopardize projects, client relationships, and employee relationships. If you notice one of these behaviors, here are seven different tactics you can use to change it.

1. Reward Employees who Exhibit Positive Behavior

Rather than handing out punishments for negative behavior, focus on rewarding those employees who exhibit positive behaviors. This will help reinforce the fact that you value those behaviors. Even if it’s something small, take the time to at least point it out to that employee. If possible, recognize and reward those who consistently display these behaviors or have gone above and beyond. This will let everyone know what attitudes you value.

It’s also important that you provide constructive and helpful feedback rather than what employees will see as punishment for those who display negative behaviors. Don’t point out such behaviors publicly like you would with positive behavior. Instead, talk to the employee privately and discuss why what they’re doing is damaging. Then provide ways they could change their behavior for the better.

2. Focus on One Thing at a Time

If you have an employee who exhibits several bad behaviors, don’t try to change them all at once. There are several reasons why this never works out. First, there’s the initial meeting with the employee. You’re going to bring up three, four, or even more behaviors that need to change. The employee is going to feel overwhelmed, may think that they’re horrible at their job, or is going to feel attacked. They are likely to go on the defensive and believe you dislike them. This is going to greatly affect the employee’s morale and may even lead to them looking for another job.

Another reason this doesn’t work is that even if the employee is open to your criticism, they aren’t really going to know what to focus on first. You’ve given them so much that they need to change that they’re likely going to be more focused on your criticism than on doing their work. They will start to over-think and second-guess everything they do, so their performance will decrease. It’s likely they won’t even focus the behaviors you’ve brought to their attention. Instead, they’ll try to change everything they do because they don’t think they do anything right.

By prioritizing the changes you’d like to see, you provide guidance for the employee. This is especially true if you can point out several things they do really well. Make sure they know that while they may need to change one behavior, they also have some incredibly good behaviors that should be rewarded.

3. Inspire Employees

Another way to change employee behaviors is to inspire them to change on their own. Motivate them and tap into the passion they have for their career. This isn’t always easy, of course, but it can be done in a number of different ways. Modeling positive behaviors yourself can be one way of showing employees how these behaviors are helpful.

You can also bring in different motivational speakers. When employees listen to inspirational speakers, they get a point of view that’s different from what they’re used to. These speakers know how to get employees motivated and inspired to go beyond the norm. Bringing in speakers who focus on different behaviors will help address all of the issues you may have in the office.

4. Don’t Nag or Micromanage

Micromanaging your employees is never a good idea, but it’s especially bad if you do so while they’re trying to change their negative behaviors. If they suspect you’re always behind them watching every little thing they do, it will make them more nervous. It will also annoy them. They will feel like you don’t trust them to do their jobs, which will often lead to a decrease in both morale and job performance. Employees who feel micromanaged are often much less satisfied with their jobs than others.

Likewise, don’t nag employees to change. Changing behaviors doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and if you keep nagging your employees to change, they’re only going to become more resentful of you and even resentful of changing. They may dig in their heels and decide not to change because you keep nagging them about it.

Instead, give them the space and time they need to work on their behaviors. After you feel like they’ve had sufficient time to make changes, observe them. See if they have. If so, provide them with positive feedback and let them know that they have improved. If not, discuss it. Perhaps they aren’t sure what to do to change. Maybe they did try but found themselves falling back into bad behaviors. Work with them to make the change.

5. Instill Trust

Finally, employees may have no reason to make changes to their behavior if they don’t trust you. Part of this trust comes from talking to them privately instead of publicly attacking them and giving them the time and space they need to make changes. Another part of instilling trust is listening to your employees. Let them know that you value their advice and ideas. It shows that you’re willing to listen to what others have to say and, if needed, adjust your own thinking.

6. Provide Clear Goals

Give your team members goals they can reach for. This will help motivate them to move forward and do their best in order to reach those goals. This can actually help correct some negative behaviors because employees will see how those behaviors hinder their work. However, it can also reinforce these behaviors if they help the employee get ahead, so make certain you watch for that.

7. Be a Mentor

Some employees, especially those new to the field, may express negative behaviors simply because they don’t know any better. These employees need a mentor or coach who can help them learn how to fit in to the professional world. If you take a little time to mentor them, you can turn these employees into amazingly productive, positive members of your staff.

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