Addressing bad behavior with good policy

Addressing bad behavior in the workplace should be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity, writes Laura DribinThe COVID-19 outbreak (and subsequent lockdowns) did a number on us in our workplaces and in our homes—and we are still paying the price in so many ways. Did employees and managers get so used to remote work that they totally forgot that humans are social creatures and social interaction is vital to our wellbeing. Sometimes it feels that way. I have spent most of my career working on and managing large global projects. Issues that arose always seemed to be focused on headquarters- and/or remote-location considerations but nothing so serious that it would hinder the project team(s) from working together.

So, a year into working remote during the COVID-19 outbreak, my team and I saw a noticeable and disturbing change in most of our client team’s behavior. And it wasn’t pretty. The client teams were becoming increasingly infected with what I’ll diplomatically call: “bad behavior.”

The root of our business is to work with, and to help, difficult teams—that is why we are often pulled in. But these days, some of our client teams seem to be exhibiting some very different traits. Employees’ behaviors changed dramatically, and I think that is likely due to increased isolation and disconnection from their normal work environment. Today, we often witness employees feeling emboldened to act in ways that were, in the past, easily identified as unprofessional at best and career limiting at worst. These included:

  • Pushing back on corporate policy changes in a passive-aggressive manner
  • Taking on other defined roles when they don’t want to participate in their current roles
  • Avoiding meetings all together

These actions can easily slow the progress of projects or innovation, lead to more unwanted or harmful behavior from other employees and spread like a virus within work groups resulting in negatively affecting the existing culture or in a largely remote organization creating a toxic culture.


Managers need to step up

These behaviors have elicited the need for strong managers that have the capacity to identify and confront this behavior head on. They also need the backing of executive leadership along with the resources to change employee-level policies and culture as well as the authority to enforce penalties when needed. Unfortunately, these issues have led to a lack of managerial (and executive) courage and costly, inefficient workarounds.

Often, this can be a result of:

  • Not having the skillset to handle these behaviors
  • Not creating and/or support penalties to manage these behaviors
  • Not being aware or concerned with the cultural impacts

New challenges…and opportunities

As you can imagine, an organization wrestling with these types of issues is not one that has the capacity to innovate but may not understand why that is.

I was worried that this might be found to be anecdotal but there is a rise in discussion around etiquette coaches (LA Times and Business Insider). But organizations are, in fact, actually looking to this as a solution to address this behavioral phenomenon. I believe they are going at this from the wrong end of the problem. They are trying to address the symptoms instead of getting to the root cause. People know how to behave in a business setting…they are choosing not to.

Addressing these behavioral issues should be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

  1. Really understand how a remote policy is affecting your people, managers, organization and culture. Don’t just download a “how to make a remote policy” guidebook from the internet, talk to your people and get to know how the policy will really affect them.
  2. Create specific policies and procedures to address weaknesses. Your employees are individuals, treat them that way and let your policies reflect that—they may not agree all the time, but they’ll appreciate your effort.

Cultural issues will take more time, and therefore more sustained effort, but I believe it will have the biggest bang for the buck as your culture grows and matures. It will be the foundation to support and feed all the policies created to make your organization whole no matter where your people work around the world. Therefore, the fruit of the work is worth the effort.