Tips for confronting unprofessional behavior

I have a busy, small ladies’ boutique and have a great group of women who help me. I have always employed a few college students and have been completely satisfied with each one of them. They generally stay with me until they leave for professional jobs after graduation. 

The problem: I hired a friend of one of the college girls. I generally don’t do this, but the “friend” has turned out to be a greater employee than the original girl! I try to set their schedules so that they do not work together. However, a few times they have overlapped by an hour or so. When this happens, the original girl I hired exhibits completely out-of-character, immature behavior. She does things such as hitting her friend with a shoe, or tossing her friend’s hair over the top of her head! 

I bit my tongue, as this girl has been loyal and had done many favors for me over the years and I don’t want to embarrass her in front of others-especially her friend. I can’t put my finger on what is happening here. Can you give me some pointers? Hurry, I’m losing my patience. 

Answer:

Your employees’ longevity is a testimonial to your good treatment. And that is especially high praise in your industry where turnover is the norm. I suspect what may be happening is that either employee #1 is a little competitive/jealous of employee #2; or she is na├»ve about how to interact with this friend as a professional colleague. 

If employee #2 is outshining her friend, her immature antics may be an attempt to get attention focused back to her. (To her friend: “Hey, remember me? I’m the one who got you a job!” Or to you: “Remember me? I’m the one who recommended her!”)  

This is particularly common when the person who is giving out the recognition and favor (you) is well-respected and liked. They all want to please you and so a little jealousy can creep in. You may not think that you are treating them differently, but usually these subtle cues are easy to pick up from employees. 

On the other hand, she may be socially immature and she may think that this behavior is “fun” or “playful,” as in, “Gee Betsey, didn’t we have a riot at work last night?” She may be more focused on being a cool friend than a great employee.  

I’d suggest that you come at it from two directions. First, make it a point to pay a little more attention to employee #1. Notice anything she does that is good performance or takes extra effort. If she’s feeling brushed aside, this should help to make her feel valued. 

In addition, the next time you see her do something inappropriate, find a way to get her to the side and privately say, “I know you are good friends with [employee #2] outside of work, and it’s easy to let that fun, zany relationship stuff cross over into work. The kind of fun you have with [employee #2] is perfectly fine in a social setting but that kind of playfulness isn’t appropriate here. We want our clients to look at us as sales professionals.” 

If she seems clueless, give her examples of what you have seen. Let her save face by using phrases such as, “I’m sure that wasn’t your intention,” or, “I’m sure you wouldn’t have done that if you realized how it may be perceived,” or “You’re a good employee and I know you wouldn’t want anything to negatively affect your relationship with customers.” This should help you deliver the message without destroying her self-esteem. 

Confronting unprofessional behavior is always one of the most challenging tasks of a manager. It can be embarrassing for both of you. Use a straightforward, conversational tone and don’t make a big deal out of it. If you approach her as her mentor and coach—not as an angry boss—you will have much better results.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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