How to Identify and Deal with a Disruptive Employee

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Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

A disruptive employee can damage company morale and productivity. Address bad, disruptive employees as early as possible before they create a bigger problem.

There are various methods to deal with them, depending on the situation.

In this blog, let’s discuss disruptive and difficult employee behavior and how you can identify them, handle them, and prevent them from hurting your business.

We shall also touch upon disciplining bad employees and handling difficult team members with specific consequences.


A disruptive employee can harm company morale and productivity. To handle them, identify them early on and address their behavior. Different types of disruptive employees include those with negative attitudes, poor behavior, poor performance, disruptive behavior, and lack of motivation.

For a productive employee conversation, steps can be taken to remain calm and professional, set boundaries, and communicate expectations. Disciplining and handling difficult team members can involve involving HR and documenting incidents, as well as maintaining a positive work environment for the rest of the team.

Disruptive Employee
Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Identifying a Problem Employee

When it is an employee issue, monitor your employees closely and identify any potential problems early on.

This way, you can address the issue promptly and ensure that it doesn’t snowball into a larger problem.

It’s also important to contact your HR department immediately if you notice any concerning behavior among your employees.

Doing so will help ensure the management of the employee’s behavior appropriately and that they can continue delivering high-quality work.

In terms of communication, speak with your employees constructively and respectfully.

It will help address the issue quickly and effectively. Also, follow up after it has come to a resolution to document the incident for future reference.

The different signs of a problem employee

If you’re experiencing trouble managing an employee, there are some signs they may be a problem employee.

Some of the most common signs include,

  • Poor performance.
  • Interference with other employees’ work.
  • Disruptive or suspicious behavior in the workplace.

If you notice any of these signs, take measures to deal with the problem employee.

Try to understand why the employee is performing poorly and make changes to improve performance.

Additionally, be open about your concerns and discuss them openly with the employee.

By addressing the problem of employees honestly and compassionately, you can ensure a healthy working environment for all employees.

Types of Bad or Disruptive Employees

Bad employees can ruin your workplace’s morale and efficiency. Unmotivated employees are not interested in their work or do not care about their job. These employees are negative attitude employees who often complain and bring down the morale of others.

Disruptive employees do not follow orders or conform to company norms. They often create work disturbances and can cause employee turnover due to poor performance and attitude.

Absenteeism and tardiness are other bad employee traits to look out for. Employees with negative attitudes can become disinterested in their jobs, which could lead to poor performance and a lack of motivation.

Lastly, bad employees can also be found cheating and stealing from the company. They steal from the company or cheat on their work.

  1. Negative attitude

    A negative attitude is one of the most common types of bad employees. A negative attitude is a permanent and pervasive dissatisfaction with work and the workplace.

    Such employees are usually difficult to work with and are often disruptive to other staff members and supervisors. They may refuse to follow instructions or do their job, leading to problems at work and home.

    A bad employee with negative behavior creates a toxic environment. The workplace behavior may also get upset by this negativity and bad attitude.

    In addition, such employees often undermine the morale of other staff members and can harm company morale as a whole.

  2. Poor behavior

    Poor behavior is a serious challenge in any workplace. It can range from refusing to follow instructions to create a disruptive work environment.

    If you are overwhelmed by an employee’s behavior, take action immediately. Each situation is unique, so discuss concerns and explore different options.

    At the same time, there are several steps that you can take to address the situation and improve the working environment.

    For example, you can delegate work responsibilities or tasks to reduce the employee’s workload or create a formal written behavior policy.

    By addressing bad behavior on time, you can prevent it from becoming a long-term issue.

  3. Poor performance

    Poor performance by an employee can hurt the organization’s performance.

    It is tough to identify the cause of poor performance and effectively address it.

    If an employee is disruptive or causing issues in the workplace, it may be necessary to take disciplinary action.

    Depending on the nature of the behavior and the severity of the consequences, termination may be an appropriate option.

    You can take many steps to deal with a disruptive employee, such as training, counseling, or disciplining them.

    These will help ensure that you are focusing on your core business activities and delivering high-quality services to your customers.

  4. Disruptive behavior

    Disruptive employees can be disruptive anywhere, from the workplace to home.

    There are three main types of disruptive employees:

    – Saboteurs.
    – Troublemakers.
    – Quitters.

    Saboteurs try to disrupt the work environment by sabotaging equipment or disrupting coworkers.

    Troublemakers deliberately make things difficult for others and can be very vocal about their grievances.

    Disruptive employees can also be quitters who leave without any warning or explanation.

    These employees may simply walk out on the job, causing a sudden drop in work output. If you identify a disrupter in your workplace, understand their behavior and work to minimize the disruption they cause.

  5. Lack of motivation

    Lack of motivation is among many factors, including poor work conditions, low pay, and lack of opportunity.

    Disruptive employees can be a major headache for employers as they lack the skills and motivation to perform at their best.

    To deal with disruptive employees, firms must train and provide them with growth opportunities. They can also take disciplinary action or consider termination if necessary.

    Companies need to develop a clear employee behavior and performance management policy to address disruptive behavior in the workplace.

Telling an Employee Their Behavior is Unacceptable

Follow these steps to make your employee aware of their unacceptable behavior.

  1. Schedule a private meeting with the employee.
  2. Express concern and provide specific examples of the unacceptable behavior.
  3. Explain how the behavior is impacting the work environment or team.
  4. Listen to the employee’s perspective and concerns.
  5. Agree on steps to improve the behavior and set clear expectations.
  6. Document the discussion and outcome.
  7. Follow up to monitor progress and provide support as needed.

Steps for having a productive conversation with the employee

  1. Plan and prepare what you want to discuss.
  2. Schedule a private, uninterrupted meeting with the employee.
  3. Be clear, calm, and professional.
  4. Listen actively and allow the employee to speak.
  5. Stay focused on specific behaviors and their impact.
  6. Avoid making accusations or attacking the person.
  7. Work together to find a solution and establish the next steps.
  8. Follow up to ensure the agreement is being followed and to provide support.

Dealing with Confrontational Employees

Start by preparing for the unexpected. Disruptive employees are often unpredictable, so be proactive and deal with them calmly.

  1. Handle confrontations diplomatically.
  2. Avoid escalation and keep the conversation focused on their behavior.
  3. Take notes of the incident, including what was said, how it was said, and what actions you took.

After the incident, communicate with human resources about the issue and discuss any possible solutions.

If that doesn’t work, go through the proper channels and ask for support from your team or department.

Tips for remaining calm and professional

If you notice that an employee is displaying disruptive behavior, there are a few things you can do to address the situation.

First, be respectful and avoid getting confrontational yourself. Instead, try to set clear expectations for behavior and communicate them clearly to the employee.

Follow these tips,

  1. Take deep breaths and stay centered.
  2. Focus on the issue, not the person.
  3. Use a calm and neutral tone of voice.
  4. Avoid getting defensive or making assumptions.
  5. Ask questions to understand the situation.
  6. Avoid making impulsive decisions and take time to think before responding.
  7. Stay solution-focused and maintain a positive attitude.
  8. Avoid speaking in absolutes (e.g., “never” or “always”).
  9. Keep emotions in check, and don’t let them drive the conversation.

If the situation becomes too contentious, consider terminating the employee’s employment involving management and Human Resources (HR).

Setting boundaries and communicating expectations

Set boundaries with confrontational employees from the start of a working relationship.

These individuals may have strong opinions about work-related issues and often challenge or argue. It’s best to communicate expectations clearly and concisely to ensure that both parties are on the same page.

Disruptive employees are hard to manage, but some steps can help keep the workplace productive and orderly.

For example, it’s important to assign specific tasks to these employees so that they can focus on their work and avoid arguing over insignificant details.

It’s also helpful to provide detailed instructions on how to complete their work, as these individuals may not always follow directions or adhere to standard protocols.

Strategies for addressing disruptive employee behavior

Strategies for dealing with employee behavior that is disruptive and difficult to manage can include the following.

First, identify the root cause of employee behavior. The employee may be experiencing a difficult personal situation, such as a family crisis or financial hardship.

Or, the employee may have difficulty adjusting to work culture, job responsibilities, or workplace environment.

Take some time and sit down and chat about their issues to understand employees’ perspectives. It can help open the lines of communication and create a positive working environment for both parties.

When addressing employee behavior that is difficult to manage, address the issue diplomatically and objectively. As a manager, you should approach the situation rationally and calmly.

Try not to get drawn into petty arguments or emotional outbursts. You must refrain from using negative language or accusing the employee of wrongdoing without evidence to support your claims.

When dealing with challenging employees, it’s important to offer resources for improvement and assistance in finding new work if necessary.

Disruptive Employee
Infographic: Respectful Work Language

Free Download “Respectful Work Language” Infographic

Construct your sentences using the below neutral language examples,

  1. “I noticed that…”
  2. “Can we discuss your approach to…”
  3. “What can we do to address the situation of…”
  4. “I’d like to understand your perspective on…”
  5. “How do you think we can improve the process of…”
  6. “What steps do you suggest we take to resolve this issue?”
  7. “Can you explain the reasoning behind…”
  8. “I appreciate your efforts, but I think there’s room for improvement in…”
  9. “Let’s work together to find a mutually beneficial solution for…”
  10. “What support do you need to make progress in…”

It demonstrates positive leadership and shows that you are willing to help your employee learn and grow in their role.

Disciplining an arrogant employee

When disciplining an employee, consider their situation and the behavior that led to the disciplinary action.

For example, some employees may be difficult to discipline due to a lack of relevant work experience or poor performance management skills.

In such cases, it may be necessary to work with their manager or supervisor to find a suitable solution.

Additionally, be clear about the consequences of their actions, both short- and long-term.

If an employee is continuously creating issues for the team or business, it can be hard to deliver on the company’s objectives.

So if disciplining an employee becomes too difficult, it may be time to involve the HR team.

Here are the steps you can consider in this situation,

  1. Schedule a private meeting with the employee.
  2. Clearly articulate the specific behaviors that are concerning.
  3. Explain the impact of the behaviors on the workplace and team.
  4. Listen to the employee’s perspective and concerns.
  5. Establish a plan of action, including steps for improvement and consequences if the behavior continues.
  6. Provide the employee with resources and support to help them improve.
  7. Document the discussion and outcome.
  8. Follow up regularly to monitor progress and provide additional support as needed.
  9. Consider disciplinary action, such as a warning or termination, if the behaviors persist despite intervention and support.

Disciplining a manipulative employee

Manipulative employees can be difficult to manage, but there are several strategies you can use to discipline and assert authority over them.

For example, give them feedback on their performance and work habits. You may also consider discussing their behavior with your management team for feedback and recommendations.

These steps must help you manage the process,

  1. Schedule a private meeting with the employee.
  2. Communicate the specific behaviors that are concerning.
  3. Explain the impact of the behaviors on the workplace and team.
  4. Allow the employee to explain their perspective and concerns.
  5. Establish clear boundaries and expectations for future behavior.
  6. Document the discussion and outcome.
  7. Implement a system of accountability and monitoring.
  8. Provide additional training and support as needed.
  9. Consider progressive discipline if the behaviors persist, including verbal or written warnings, suspension, or termination.

Effective leadership requires staying calm, objective, and rational while dealing with difficult people. As a manager, learn the art of constructive feedback following the company’s processes.

Also, understand the management style of working to align with the company culture.

Other steps you can take are enforcing strict deadlines and policies, delegating work to other staff members, or investing in training and development for the team.

Handling Difficult Team Members

Sometimes, good employees can turn into disruptive employees. When this happens, identify the signs and body language, and take corrective actions.

Start by examining your employee’s behavior, attitude, and performance. Look for any changes in these factors. If you notice that the employee is becoming more difficult to work with and arguments are becoming more frequent, then it’s time to address the issue.

Communicate with the employee clearly and concisely. Make sure you’re clear about expectations and deadlines. Use mediation or problem-solving techniques to try to resolve the issue.

If this fails, consider terminating the employee’s contract. By taking steps to prevent future disruptions from occurring, you can foster a culture of peace and harmony within your team.

Maintain a positive work environment for the rest of the team

If you identify a toxic employee, take action immediately. Identifying a disruptive employee can be challenging, but take action as soon as possible.

Do not confront the employee in public or during work hours. Instead, create a policy outlining how disruptive behavior will be handled and communicate this policy to the rest of the team.

Maintaining a positive work environment for the rest of the team is crucial. Create an environment where all employees feel respected and can work effectively without being interrupted or challenged by others.

Moreover, create clear policies and procedures that clearly outline how disruptive behavior will be addressed and handled.

Don’t forget to address workforce psychological safety.

This way, everyone knows what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable at work.

Additionally, inform the team about the situation. So the employees know when to contact you for questions or concerns.

Other Considerations

If you’re an employee dealing with disruptive behavior from a coworker, there are several things you can do to identify the signs and address the issue.

First, be aware of behavior that indicates a person is disruptive, such as engaging in frequent arguments or complaints, ignoring instructions, and refusing to follow through on tasks.

Additionally, consider the employee’s work performance and attitude toward their job duties. If they’re consistently negative or difficult to work with, that could be a sign of potential problem behavior.

Another way to identify potential problem behavior is through employee feedback. Look for specific comments that show the employee is unhappy with their job or management.

Additionally, analyze the employee’s performance reviews and other feedback from their manager. If there are any complaints, you should investigate the matter further.

If you suspect problem behavior on the part of an employee, it’s important to communicate with them directly and provide a solution.

Work with the employee to find an acceptable resolution for both parties and avoid making assumptions about their behavior without getting all the facts.

Importance of documentation and involving HR

Take into account a range of factors when dealing with disruptive employees.

For instance, documentation is key in ensuring noting employees’ actions for further investigation.

So, regular communication with employees is crucial for maintaining a positive work environment.

Moreover, involving the human resources department may be the best action in cases of serious misconduct.

To effectively address disruptive behavior, have a clear understanding of the problem and a plan for it. It is a trait of a good manager.

Allowing for open communication between management and employees and regularly communicating with the employee about their behavior can help ensure a productive work environment.

Employee assistance programs (EAP)

Employee assistance programs can provide support and resources to employees struggling with behavioral issues.

These programs may include counseling services, addiction treatment, and other resources. They can help managers address behaviors that are detrimental to the workplace and ensure a safe and productive work environment for all employees.

Employee assistance programs can be a valuable tool for managing disruptive behavior in the workplace. Furthermore, by offering support and resources to employees facing difficult situations, employee assistance programs can help promote a positive work environment for everyone.

Red flags and warning signs

Watch out for these signs,

  1. Consistent tardiness or absenteeism
  2. Resistance to constructive criticism or feedback
  3. Negative attitude or employee’s problematic behavior towards coworkers or management
  4. Inability to work effectively as part of a team
  5. Consistent failure to meet performance or job expectations
  6. Disregard for company policies and procedures
  7. Poor communication skills
  8. Inappropriate behavior or language
  9. Resistance to change or taking on new responsibilities
  10. Evidence of unethical behavior or violations of company policies.


The next time you’re dealing with a difficult employee disrupting the workplace, remember there are ways to deal with bad employee behavior.

So, communicate and set boundaries for their behavior. Don’t engage in name-calling or blaming.

Also, keep a positive work environment for the rest of your employees. If the employee doesn’t change the behavior, document everything that has happened and involve human resources in dealing with the matter.

By following these steps, it will be easier to address disruptive employee behavior and maintain a productive environment in the workplace.

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