Disruptive Employee Behavior


A positive and supportive environment at work contributes greatly to employee satisfaction and productivity. When negative employee behavior is not immediately dealt with, however, workplace relationships can quickly become dysfunctional. Because disruptive employee behavior corrodes workplace harmony and can damage business relationships, it is important to identify the most common behaviors that affect productivity.

Negative Attitude

  • Over time, complacency may set in for some employees, and they may begin to complain about their hours, their coworkers, or having to complete work they do not deem part of their job. They may also experience family or financial problems at home, and bring the resulting irritability with them to work. If such negative attitudes go unchecked, they may infect coworkers and create an environment that restrains productivity.

Bad Work Habits

  • Coming in late, leaving work early, taking extra time on breaks and calling in sick when not sick are disruptive and often unethical workplace behaviors. Work is disrupted when others have to scramble to pick up the slack. When a worker is away from an assigned desk or station, customers are left with no one to serve them; these customers will become impatient, leave or hang up an unanswered phone call, and are likely to never return.


  • A seemingly benign but potently disruptive employee behavior is gossip. Sharing negative or personal information or opinions about coworkers or clients can create feelings of betrayal that undermine goodwill and trust. By its nature, gossip raises questions about others’ competency, weakening relationships and preventing effective teamwork. While steering the conversation toward others’ positive qualities can help, often even positive statements can tend to slip toward the negative. Time and energy can be better spent than on gossip, which lowers employee morale and reduces productivity.

Hostile Speech

  • While an employee may be stressed when work is not evenly distributed, when she fails to receive an expected raise or promotion, or when receiving criticism, it is poor office etiquette, or worse, to raise voices, use expletives or make threats in response to workplace upsets.

    "Preventing Disruptive, Threatening, and Violent Behavior in the Workplace," an article by Jennifer L. Parent, reports that statements like "l’ll get you" or "You better watch your back," as well as implicit threats such as "This isn't over" or "You'll be sorry’" are hostile, and can lead to workplace violence and even criminal assault charges.


  • Managers should not assume that problems are isolated and will resolve themselves. In fact, Joan Lloyd of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal says employers “should be setting clear expectations and holding people accountable for their behavior.”

    To prevent or reduce disruptive employee behavior, it is important to “talk about solutions as well as problems,” according to the Mayo Clinic Guide to Self Care, and to “work with others to rectify the situation.” Ultimately, employees are in the workplace to make positive contributions to the organization that employs them.

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