Anyone who knows me well knows this drives me crazy – penalizing everyone else for one person’s misbehavior or idiocy.

We see it in government, volunteer associations, and in business leadership. Think of the hundreds of laws now on the books because governments overreacted to isolated incidents and passed laws that hurt or inconvenienced innocent citizens. We also see it when organizations like condo associations pass restrictive covenants because one person did something that upset one or more owners.

A recent example is the Portsmouth, NH woman who now faces legal action because she planted flowers (beautiful ones, I might add) outside her Portsmouth condominium. And, finally, we see it when a business leader or supervisor imposes a new rule or “policy” because one employee misbehaved and the leader wanted to avoid conflict with the employee.

Employee Misbehavior. I’m sure most of you have had an experience with an employee or team member when you thought, “What were you thinking?” You know, that moment when you knew either the employee was devoid of “common sense” or was fundamentally unethical.

Here are just a few examples from my experience:

  1. Wearing a bare midriff top to a business meeting with a customer;
  2. Expense reports that include personal expenses;
  3. Posting very inappropriate comments about work clients on their public Facebook account;
  4. Driving the long way around to maximize a mileage reimbursement;
  5. Copying company software on personal computers; and
  6. Faking work injuries to get workers’ compensation payments and medical coverage.

When employees do these things, and many others, I see leaders take one of these four actions.

First, sadly, they ignore them. Second, they have a team meeting to remind everyone of what is expected, and to not do whatever behavior is undesirable. Third, they look for a company policy the person might have violated so they can address the problem with HR. If there is no policy, they try to put one in place. Fourth, and too rarely, they sit down with the offender and address the problem.

Side Effects of Not Dealing with Employee Misbehavior. I think one of the most common mistakes leaders make is not directly confronting the misbehaviors of their team members immediately. Not long ago I had a manager tell me she was going to hold a team meeting to remind everyone of the company’s dress code. When I asked her why this was a problem she said, “last week ‘Patrice’ wore open-toed flip-flops and capri pants to a job site and this was a violation of our dress code.” When I asked her if anyone else on the team had done the same thing, she said “no.” I then coached her through a process of self-discovery so she could see that:

  1. She was really avoiding the conflict that might come when she confronted the sole offender;
  2. She was penalizing the rest of her team for one offender’s actions; and
  3. Her team would lose respect for her as a leader because they could see she couldn’t deal with the conflict.

Knowing How to Manage Conflict. At the center of properly solving this problem at all levels is conflict management. Conflict avoidance, while one of Kilmann-Thomas’ five methods, is not the best method for facing employee misbehavior. A leader needs to be direct and assertive. If you find yourself not wanting to face the individual, you are likely avoiding conflict. If you prepare properly, you can confront the individual and have the best outcome for everyone. If you are unsure how to do this, I suggest you seek guidance from your supervisor or human resource professional. In upcoming blogs, I will write more about conflict management.

Remember, when your team member does not behave appropriately, it is your responsibility to deal with it directly and promptly. If you just have team meetings or implement new policies, you are punishing everyone else for one person’s misbehavior – a practice surely to lower your leadership standing.