How to Manage an Employee with a Bad Attitude

How to manage an employee with a bad attitude for UK Small Businesses

At some point, most employers have had to deal with an employee whose attitude slips so that it becomes unsatisfactory. 😞 

This can be a huge drain of time and energy to manage. It can also be bewildering if they’ve always been such a star employee in the past, and it can start to affect team morale and customer service, and ultimately the bottom line. This is often a tricky one for many employers to know how to handle, particularly if it’s the first time you’ve been faced with this. 

Maybe in this situation, your first instinct might be to hand the person their P45. Or perhaps your approach is the complete opposite and you put your head in the sand. 

Either way, this blog outlines what I mean by a bad attitude and some of the reasons it might have arisen in the first place. I’ll talk you through what you should think about and the steps you can take to manage this effectively, plus some additional tips to avoid it becoming an issue in future.

What exactly is a bad attitude at work?

It can range from the fairly obvious, to the often harder to define insidious things. Examples could include the employee starting to make a regular habit of arriving late to work, no longer replying to your emails, making frequent errors, or missing one too many deadlines. Or it could be things like spreading rumours or making negative comments under their breath, which start to create an unpleasant working atmosphere for the whole team. 

Regardless of what the behaviour is and how it’s presenting itself, the number one most important thing is that it MUST be tackled. The worst thing is to leave it, hoping it will work itself out on its own. Take my word for it that it often needs an intervention to resolve it.

Examples of a bad attitude 

The most common complaints I hear from managers are as follows - but they all have one thing in common: they ultimately end up harming the performance and hindering the individual's career prospects.

👉 Entitlement 

Entitlement Culture is one of the most toxic behaviours. It’s where employees feel entitled to more pay, portions, working from home, more interesting work - but don’t really want to do the work or put the effort in to earn it. 

It’s like just showing up to work should be enough. They feel it’s unreasonable for the Manager to give feedback or ask them to do something, if this involves extra effort. 

👉 Laziness

Laziness is often marked by a lack of motivation, an unwillingness to engage in anything beyond the bare essentials, and an overall sense of apathy. While taking a shortcut or two might not raise immediate concerns, over time, it can significantly drag down overall productivity.

It's not just about the individual's work quality suffering; their lack of initiative might also hinder the efforts of those genuinely striving to be productive. If you find yourself grappling with an employee who's embracing the lazy vibe, it's high time to take steps to nip the issue in the bud.

👉 Arrogance and Unwillingness to Accept Reforms or Mistakes

Dealing with a bit of arrogance in a manager can be a real challenge, can't it? It's when they're reluctant to admit they've missed the mark or need a little course correction. This attitude can be a proper headache for you as the manager and the rest of the team. 

It has the potential to stir up conflicts and throw the team's harmony completely off-kilter. If you let it carry on unchecked, it might even nibble away at the manager's authority. So, it's ever so important to keep a weather eye for those signs of arrogance and, when you spot 'em, take the necessary steps to tackle the issue head-on. By doing this little jig, managers can turn their workplace into not just a functional space but a positively thriving one, you know?

👉 Rudeness

Rudeness can manifest in various ways, from interrupting others during meetings to dominating conversations. This negative behaviour doesn't just stop at creating an uncomfortable work environment; it can throw a spanner in the works of employee productivity.

Furthermore, rudeness has a knack for sparking conflicts among team members. If you let it linger without addressing it, it could even put the success of the whole business on shaky ground.

So, as a manager, it's crucial to tackle instances of rudeness promptly and with a firm hand. By doing so, you can put the brakes on this negative attitude, ensuring that your employees can collaborate harmoniously and get the job done effectively.

Consider why your employee is behaving like this ❓

There could be many reasons why your employee has developed a bad attitude, and it might not actually be anything to do with the job. It could be that the person is going through a particularly difficult time outside of work - whether because of relationship issues, family pressures, debt, or dependency of some sort - and unfortunately, the effects of this are spilling over into work. 

The other scenario is that the employee has started to resent their job for some reason. Perhaps they’ve grown bored with their work, or they’re upset that a co-worker has been given a pay increase and they haven’t, or perhaps they feel they’ve been overlooked for promotion, or they’ve fallen out with a colleague they used to get on well with. 

How to take control of this situation 💪

You need to find out what is really going on and this is going to involve you having an open and honest conversation with the person. 

📍I’d advise you to plan what you’re going to say in advance and how you’re going to say it. Make notes during the conversation.

📍Be very specific on what the issues are. Get examples and facts if you can, for example the number of occasions of lateness, or the actual emails the person hasn’t responded to. 

📍Choose a private space to meet in and a suitable time of the working day, perhaps close to the end of the day.

📍Explain to the person what behaviour you’re seeing at work and describe the detrimental impact it’s having. Try to keep your language positive. Your aim is to encourage the person to open up about what’s going on, rather than them becoming defensive and confrontational.

If circumstances outside of work are causing this poor attitude, then your tendency might be to be lenient and overlook the behaviour to some degree because you want to be kind. Of course, listen and offer support where you can, particularly if this is a valued, long-term employee. Remember though that you have a business to run, and it is possible to be supportive of the person and their circumstances, but still have a reasonable expectation that their attitude needs to be improved.

However, it could be that they have no reasonable explanation and perhaps they don’t really care about their behaviour. If this is the case you’ll need to be very clear on what your expectations are, what improvement you’re expecting and by when, and hold follow-up review meetings with them to check progress. 

There are added benefits of calling the employee out on this. It sends a helpful message to the rest of the team that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable and won’t be tolerated. It also shows them that you care what the working atmosphere is like for everyone and that you are confident and capable of taking action 💪

What happens if this approach doesn’t work?

What I’ve outlined is an informal approach, and most workplace issues can be resolved via informal means. Sometimes an honest conversation and a ‘heads up’ is all it takes from an employer for the employee to show the improvement you need to see. Occasionally, it doesn’t work quite like this and a more formal approach might be necessary, which is when you will need to consider actioning your company’s disciplinary procedure. 


Disciplinary Toolkit for UK Small Businesses


Top tips to avoid this becoming an issue in future

  • Having regular one-to-ones makes it easier to nip any issues in the bud as they arise.
  • Consider how you reward your employees and whether you could implement an employee incentive scheme to place emphasis on the behaviour you want to encourage.
  • Make sure your line managers are trained in giving honest feedback.
  • Consider giving your employees access to an employee assistance programme so they can discuss confidential personal matters.


  • Book a free consultation with Mandy here, to learn more about us working together.

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