Respond rationally when employees test the rules

Respond rationally when employees test the rules

by Catherine Welborn

Problem: You had some callous bosses in your past, so when you were promoted, you decided that you wouldn’t be one of them. You thought “I’ll treat them with respect and kindness, and they’ll be model employees because they appreciate me.”

Now you’re wondering if you should have been a little tougher. It’s not that your team is blatantly disrespectful, but you feel like they’re testing you. Some are taking extended lunches on a regular basis or arriving to work late without apologizing. Others are ignoring aspects of the dress code. Individually they are minor offenses, but when you consider them all together, you’re concerned. 

Solution: Your instincts were right about not needing to be a jerk to be effective. However, it is possible that you’ve been too easygoing. Follow these tips to ensure that your staff doesn’t walk all over you:

  • Know your priorities. Take an honest look at your team’s goals, progress and accomplishments. Are they meeting or exceeding your expectations? If they are finishing their work and doing it well, you can ignore some minor transgressions. After all, they’ll resent you if they think you are treating them like children, and if that happens, you will have far worse problems: low productivity and high turnover.
  • Address a problem as soon as possible. When you feel disrespected, address the situation before your emotions take over. If you wait too long, you may lose your cool and blow up at your team in an unprofessional way. That won’t increase their respect for you at all. Once you’ve established that the issue is a priority, take steps to fix it right away. 
  • Meet with rule breakers one-on-one. Don’t send out a group email or address the whole team in a meeting. If only some of your employees are testing the rules, it’s not appropriate to waste everyone else’s time reviewing the employee handbook. Not only will it frustrate your rule-followers, but it will also send the message to the transgressors that you’re not comfortable reprimanding them. Instead, speak with them individually about what you’ve noticed, why you’re concerned and what you expect.
  • Follow through. If a behavior is truly problematic and you’ve talked to the employee about it, you can’t ignore it the next time it happens. Example: A customer service rep is consistently arriving 20 minutes late to her shift, leaving you a person down on busy mornings. You’ve met with the employee, asked about her situation, outlined your expectations and explained that if it keeps happening, you’ll follow your organization’s progressive discipline policy. If two weeks after your meeting she starts coming in late again, you need to follow through. Otherwise, your whole team will think you have no backbone.


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To nominate a top new leader, click here! If you ARE the top new leader, be sure to nominate yourself!

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Delivered each month, Bud to Boss Take 5 offers you advice for resolving your most perplexing management problems. Even better: You need only 5 minutes to read each issue of the e-letter and find workable solutions that you can put to use immediately!

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