Managing a High-Performing Employee With a Bad Attitude

3 min read
Feb 3, 2017


Have an employee who doesn’t bring too much to the table and has a terrible, toxic attitude? No problem. Find a replacement and then fire them.

But what if you have a rock-star employee with a bad attitude? You can’t exactly fire them and expect your team to continue producing amazing results.

For that reason, many managers opt to ignore the problem altogether, letting their most talented employees essentially play by their own rules. To a certain extent, it’s understandable. Still, it’s completely unfair — and could irreparably harm your company.

Consider the following stats from LeadershipIQ:

  • 87% of employees say that they have wanted to change jobs while working with someone who had a terrible attitude
  • 93% of workers say they’re less productive when they work with folks who have poor attitudes
  • 89% of new hires who fail within 18 months lose their jobs not because of their performance, but because of their attitude issues

Those are some pretty shocking figures, to say the least.

Is placating your top performer really worth it if your second, third, and fourth highest performers are encouraged to jump ship just to get away from that individual? Of course not.

So like it or not, you’ll need to deal with your rock-star employee’s terrible attitude sooner or later — assuming you want your company to keep growing. While it may be difficult to confront your best worker about their attitude, it’s not impossible. Here’s what you need to do:


01. Collect concrete evidence

You can’t expect your high-performing employees to believe they need to change their attitudes if you don’t have any precise examples of how their behaviors hurt their coworkers and the company. If, for example, this employee is always talking about new initiatives publicly and in an extremely negative light, document some specific examples so you can share them when the time is right.


02. Explain the awkwardness

If you had your way, you’d never have to talk to any of your employees about their attitudes because everyone would be awesome. It’s perfectly understandable to start the conversation by explaining that you wish you didn’t have to have it in the first place but, in the spirit of camaraderie and culture, you have no choice.

87% of employees say that they have wanted to change jobs while working with someone who had a terrible attitude


03. Address the undesired behaviors

Be very clear with the behaviors your rock-star employee needs to change. If, for example, they are always cynical and pessimistic about changes, tell them that they need to keep those thoughts to themselves for the sake of team morale.


04. Relay the consequences of inaction

Let your top performer know that they are an integral part of the team, but they need to play by the same rules as everyone else. If no change occurs, tell the employee what will happen. For some companies, it could mean being put on a personal improvement plan. For others, it could mean termination. It could also mean being denied a raise or not getting an otherwise deserved promotion.


05. Help your employee improve

Once you’ve had the conversation, let your rock star know that you’ll be there every step of the way to help them improve. For the worker who’s always complaining, maybe you want to give that person a seat at the table to help design and plan new initiatives, for example.

When you approach the situation the right way, your top-performing employee is likely to at least hear what you have to say and try to change for the better. Unfortunately, you may not be able to always get them to respond the way you’d like them to — but that’s just part of life.

In order for your company to continue growing, you need to have a strong culture where everyone supports each other. If any members of your team — even the strongest ones — don’t want to be a part of your shared success, well, that’s up to them.



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