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How to Handle an Employee Who Bad Mouths You

by Jill Leviticus

An employee has been criticizing you and your management style, according to reports from the usually reliable office grapevine. Although you might feel angry and hurt at the news, it’s not a good idea to lash out in retaliation. Before you address the situation, evaluate the comment and the circumstances and plan your strategy.

Evaluate the Comment

Before you turn the comment into a major incident, evaluate the nature of the statement. “Joe is so excited about the toilet paper account that I bet we’ll get a case of toilet paper instead of bonuses this year” is a much different type of statement than “Joe is a narcissistic control freak who has no idea what he’s doing.” If the comment is a mild dig at you, it might not be worthwhile pursuing. The Workplace Doctors website notes that an inherent dislike of authority might prompt employees to make cutting remarks about bosses they actually like.

Meet with the Employee

Speak to the employee if you determine that the comment warrants a discussion. Explain to your employee that he was overhead making a negative statement. Repeat the comment that you heard, and ask the employee if he made the statement. The employee might deny making the statement, so if this occurs, address badmouthing in general terms. Explain that the behavior is unprofessional and that you encourage and expect employees to come directly to you with concerns and complaints.

Discuss the Complaint

Ask the employee to discuss his complaint. If he is reluctant to participate in the discussion, ask questions about the particular procedure or policy in question. Find out if he encounters any problems carrying out the task and what he thinks could be done to make the process run more efficiently. If the employee feels you are being unfair to him, explain that the same policies apply to everyone in the department. Mention that because you discuss these issues privately with employees, he might be unaware of steps you have taken to solve problems.

Mention Disciplinary Measures

If an employee continues to disrespect you after you've tried to address his concerns, it’s time to discuss disciplinary measures. Tell the employee that if he continues to make negative statements, he will be written up or face the appropriate disciplinary measures detailed in your company's employee handbook. Explain that you can’t force him to respect you, but that you won’t tolerate rude comments made about you to other employees or customers. If you learn that a group of employees badmouths you, speak to each employee individually.

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