Coaching an Employee With a Bad Attitude

Jul 11, 2022, Written by Jim Miley

how to coach an employee with a bad attitude

If you deal with people, you deal with their attitudes.  Great attitudes are infectious, contribute to positive performance for a team and are just more pleasant to have around.  

Bad attitudes are also infectious and make an impact to the business that is overall… bad.  Judging from my personal management experience and conversations with clients over the years, I’m not wasting words here reviewing all the consequences of bad attitudes; you already know.  

With the negative impact that bad attitudes have on your business as a given, coaching employees suffering with a bad attitude is a critical skill for any business leader.  

But as there is little question that we need to address bad attitudes in our business, the reality is that many managers struggle with how to best handle the situation.  According to a survey by consulting firm, Fierce, Inc, 62% of employees say toxic coworkers should be confronted about negative attitudes, but 78% report their companies are extremely to somewhat tolerant of negative employees.  

Difficulty in dealing with bad attitudes is also a common topic with my coaching clients.  This post is written to offer some concrete recommendations that will help you navigate through coaching an employee with a bad attitude.  

Define The Problem: What is an Employee With a Bad Attitude?

Identify the specific behaviors that cause you to see a Bad Attitude.  You can’t see someone’s attitude without their behaviors showing it to you.  You must define the unacceptable behaviors in objective terms to be able to effectively coach the employee.

Have your expectations clear, consistent and documented. I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt to my employees as it helps to build trust.  In this case that means I start with the assumption that the employee is blind or ignorant to the impact of their attitude. You should be able to communicate both verbally and in writing clear and consistent expectations for acceptable behaviors.  Clear enough for anyone to understand.  Consistent such that there aren’t contradictory examples amongst co-workers.  

An Employee With a Bad Attitude is an employee who resists or refuses to comply with your expectations as clearly communicated by you. If you have not clearly communicated specific behaviors that need to change, you don’t really know if you have a bad attitude on your hands.  

How to Coach an Employee With a Bad Attitude

Recognize that Attitude is part of employee performance and can be managed just like work quality or being on time.  

Check yourself.  Be sure you don’t have any attitude that may be affecting the employee’s performance.  A common example is a manager who has tolerated undesirable behavior for so long that they have become angered by the problem; the tension makes coaching harder for both parties.  

Schedule a meeting with the employee to discuss the specific behaviors that are causing you to see a Bad Attitude.  Listen. Be prepared and open to consider why the employee is acting out an attitude.  

Be reasonable and put away your own pride.  If the employee has legitimate reasons to feel negatively in the workplace, you should be willing to address things within your control.  

For things that are unreasonable or outside of your control, be supportive but firm. The root cause of the attitude may be outside of our control, but the behaviors that put the attitude on display are within our control.  

Attitude Should Be Part of the Ongoing Performance Management Process

If you don’t have a consistent Performance Management Process, build one.  

The Performance Management Process or Performance Review should include a section that defines the desired standards for positive attitude.  

By discussing standards of attitudinal behaviors in the workplace and how the employees are doing throughout the year, you proactively coach positive attitudes into the workplace and minimize the likelihood that negative behaviors take root.  

Address any performance deficiencies regarding attitude the same way you address more tangible issues such as punctuality or work quality.  This will help you both prevent attitude problems and give you confidence in addressing them as you are communicating the standards verbally and in writing on a regular basis.  

As long as you have people in your organization, you will need to confront bad attitudes so a critical skill for you as a leader is to learn to coach employees with bad attitudes well.  Follow the steps outlined here and you will find you are more confident and capable of addressing attitude problems to the benefit of you, your employees and your business. 

Reader Interactions


  1. Sharon Emslie says

    Well written, thank you. Very apt in my working environment. If you have sound counsel on this, I gladly welcome it. Let’s cut the devil’s work by the power of Jesus!!

    • Jim Miley says

      Thanks for the comment Sharon. Attitude and relationship problems are so common and cause damage if not handled well. I’m happy to discuss in more detail and work on some positive actions for you and your team.

  2. Mike Clingerman says

    I have a young new office manager supervisor that started in March of 2023 and is on 6 months probation (standard for all state government employees). She seemed to have a positive attitude at the beginning, but now that we are in the 5th month, I have noticed here lack of acknowledging other co-workers, closing here door when we have an open door policy, and seems to come to work in bad mood more often than not. We have discussed employees she supervises that are not doing what she tells them and just wants me to fire them (I have discussed with her that you don’t tell employees, you ask employees, don’t go for the jugular). I have discussed with her that in a supervisory position, there are employees who learn quickly, some verbally, and some visually. I let her know we don’t just fire employees just because they “don’t get what I’m trying to show them”. She seems to be all about herself and has no care for anyone else on the team. She seems to be fudging as we call it, her payroll. I plan to have a sit down meeting this Monday to discuss and I’m just hesitate on what I can and cannot say. This employee is my daughters age and I just want to say what really needs to be said, you need to grow up and be professional and quit thinking its all about YOU. Thanks,

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Jim Miley

As a Business Coach, Jim brings a broad background of operational and sales management skills and expertise to help small business owners grow their business and reach their highest potential. He has 30 years of field-proven professional experience.

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