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Nobody Wants to Work with the Angry Guy

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Rex has a chip on his shoulder, and he takes it out on your workforce…every day. He’s angry when he gets there, angry all day, and even angrier at quitting time. He seems to be out to intimidate anyone in his path, including you. You daydream of firing him on the spot, right there in front of everyone. You can practically hear the applause. But realistically, you need his skills, and you don’t want to risk a wrongful termination lawsuit. So, you wake up and realize, you have to deal with Rex and tone down his outbursts.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem, because a bad attitude, if left unchecked, can spread like a cancer through your workforce. Either he’ll infect the others and start them grumbling, or your employees will lose respect for you for not dealing with an obvious problem. Confronting him might be like the old joke, “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Taking on the Tyrant
Maybe there is a pattern to his outbursts. Is he worse just before lunch or during the hottest part of the day, or maybe he’s the most obnoxious on Monday mornings (or everyday in the morning hours).

If there’s a clear pattern, can you reassign him temporarily? If he’s worse in the morning and you can have him work alone for awhile, the problem may solve itself.

Ask yourself how bad the outbursts are. If he’s abusing and belittling coworkers – or worse, being rude to customers – obviously you have to do something. If he’s mouthing off to you, is that really such a big deal? Chances are he probably doesn’t even know he’s being a jerk. On the other hand if he’s not showing you respect as the boss, you have to draw a line. Then make it clear, crossing that line means he’s made a choice to not work for you anymore.

Don’t confront while you’re angry. A wise man (Ambrose Bierce) once said “speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” Once you’ve calmed down, take Rex aside. A good policy is: praise in public, confront in private.

Define the Gap for Him
You’ve probably got a long list of gripes and you’d like to read Rex the riot act. But stick to a couple of key things that need to change. Jack Kelso, an HVAC master journeyman in northern California has dealt with many angry employees. “It’s always productive to sit down and find a solution rather than get rid of a worker,” he said. “There’s a shortage of good, qualified people in this field. So, make the best of what you’ve got, with training and guidance.”

Explain to Rex that you know he is a competent worker and you need him to help get the job done right. You hired him for his skills and you want to keep him around, but his attitude has to go.

Give him a few specifics so he has areas to work on. For example,

  • Cut out the name calling on the job.
  • No profanity when customers are present.
  • If an apprentice screws up, take a minute to cool off, then show him the right way to do a job even if it takes a few times. Remember you were an apprentice once too.

Then set a reasonable time for improvement. “You’re a valuable part of this team and I hope you want to stay, but it’s your choice. We’ll talk again at the end of the month and by then there needs to be substantial improvement.” Try to get him to agree to work on these things.

Also let him know you are keeping a close eye on the situation, and documenting your conversations with him and his reactions, as well as complaints from coworkers, customers, and vendors. Then follow through. Be sure he understands your goal is to keep him on, but if he doesn’t lose the attitude, he’s making a choice to move on.

Teresa Ambord

Posted In: Management

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