How Do You Respond to Unruly Behavior in the Workplace?
Updated: Jul 6
To prevent workplace violence you must know what causes the violent incident, and the warning signs that may be expressed. What should you do in case you may see something alarming? Do you go straight to HR? What if it is not what it seems? What if you do not say anything to anyone, and a terrible event occurs tomorrow? This article is going to address a general idea of how to react to warning signs and behaviors that may lead up to a workplace crisis event.
Note Areas of Concern
A disruptive co-worker, one that throws a temper tantrum, would be considered a lower-level area of concern. The co-worker is not threatening anyone, or abusing someone, but disruptive. Another example of an area that should be noticed would be a co-worker that has no respect for authority. These are both behaviors that need to be noted, but not immediately alarming. This may be a suitable time for an “informal intervention.”
This co-worker does not realize how his/her behavior is perceived. All that may be needed is a quick, private discussion to let the co-worker know the behavior is not in line with the company’s policy on conduct. Make sure you document your conversation afterwards. The documentation does not have to be sent anywhere but could be used in the future if the problem persists.
You notice some concerning behaviors in a co-worker. You are now noticing that these unruly behaviors are not occasional or isolated incidents, but more of a pattern. A pushy co-worker is more disrespectful and a bully. He/she pushes the envelope with authority and what rules they follow. This is more of a risk of escalation than the previous section and needs to be managed differently.
This level of behavior is more aggressive than the last examples that could be managed with an informal discussion. This type of behavior is more disruptive to the team, and being a pattern, needs to be stopped immediately. This type of behavior needs to have a superior, such as the supervisor’s attention. The supervisor can express to the employee that this behavior is not allowed according to company policy on conduct. The supervisor will then document the conversation and forward it to the proper manager.
This is the level of behavior that is intimidating others, being disruptive and disrespectful, etc. Or you have witnessed bullying and intimidation. These behaviors cause anxiety on the team and affect everyone. The supervisor has counseled the employee, but the problems are persisting. It is apparent that he/she is not interested in improving their behavior and has a total disregard for the situation. You need to report the incidents, and all the pertinent information to the appropriate manager.
At this point, there needs to be a formal conversation between management and the employee, with a witness. Specific behaviors and occurrences need to be addressed. This could also be the time that the employee is given a warning, or reprimand. Most employees would at that time change their behaviors. This discussion will also need to be documented and forwarded to the HR department for placement in the employee’s file.
Report Extreme Cases to HR/Tip Line
Let us use an example of a co-worker bullying customers. You are the only one that sees this happen, every day. You can report your concerns to a supervisor, but if that makes you uncomfortable, or there is extreme behavior being exhibited, you can always go the human resources department (HR), or the employee assistance program (EAP). This example is not only bad behavior on the co-worker’s part but is also a form of intimidation. The employee assumes that since you have not reported it, you condone it.
This behavior cannot go unreported, and you must bring it to the proper department’s attention. HR, tip lines, or the EAP, all are trained to manage your situation. Your safety and wellbeing are the company’s top priority. You just need to report the issues, incidents, or occurrences. Have your details ready such as date, time, other witnesses, location, etc. The company cannot improve things if they do not know there is an issue.
Richie is addressing his crew on the company’s workplace violence program and policies. This year, Richie is sharing the spotlight with Clara, and they are training both of their crews at the same time. Richie tells Clara that he always starts the presentation with the explanation that noticing concerning behaviors like a temper tantrum and documenting them is the first level of response to disruptive behavior. That way the team knows that not in every case does the employee need discipline. Clara agrees. Clara suggests that she cover the sections on discussing issues with the employee, in hopes of curbing the injurious behavior, without a disciplinary action being needed. A warning for the employee and ensure that the worker knows the company’s policy on this behavior. She would also like to cover the section on reporting and documenting more extreme cases to the manager for a reprimand that would go into the employee’s file. Richie wants to end the presentation with a discussion on extreme behavior that needs to be reported immediately, and possibly anonymously to the company tip line. Clara and Richie feel they have a good presentation and schedule the meeting for the next day.
About the Author: Joseph “Paul” Manley is the Founder and Principal of Risk Mitigation Technologies, LLC, a Training and Independent Consulting Firm with a focus on violence detection, prevention, response and recovery. Paul is a retired Massachusetts Police Lieutenant, Adjunct Lecturer, Violence Prevention and Threat Specialist, Security Expert, and Trainer.