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How to Handle a Successful Employee with a Bad Attitude?

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

Ok, if you had an underperforming worker who has a terrible attitude affecting the rest of your staff, you would find a replacement and then let them go, right? Pretty straightforward.

But if the worker with a bad attitude is one of your best workers, then looking for their replacement may not be the best approach.

On many occasions, this worker’s bad attitude will get overlooked by managers because of harming productivity and results due to their performance; this can be seen as unfair to the rest of the workers and affect the company in the future.

What makes this employee a great performer?

Well, simply put, they have a good work output or a high level of expertise in their field. They can complete tasks that are high quality and innovative.

Their work ethic may be excellent: staying late, coming in early. They likely always add their input in meetings and bring great ideas to the table.

On paper, they seem like a great employee…but their attitude sucks. I have heard this described as a “brilliant jerk”. As a result of being a high performer, they think that they are untouchable, and you as a leader will just put up with their negative behaviour.

At some point, you have to draw a line and let these types of employees know that remarkable results aren’t an excuse for poor behaviour.

What kind of bad attitude could this employee demonstrate?

  • Continually find things to complain about and exaggerate the seriousness of coworkers' mistakes.

  • Spread gossip and start rumours that pit employees against each other

  • Talk behind coworkers' backs.

  • Undermine supervisors' authority with a never-ending flow of criticism that stays under the radar, so it's rarely recognized and corrected.

  • They think everyone else is subpar. They roll their eyes in meetings when they disagree or openly criticize others work.

  • They believe that their ideas are better than others and know all there is to know about a subject.

  • This employee may feel that they are entitled to their projects' pick of projects as the' go-to' expert.

  • If they are the only person who knows something – they think this makes them special and invaluable. Instead of helping others they give incomplete instructions or tell them to come back when they get to X step and they will finish it.

  • They are someone who brags that they could go anywhere, but they need to stay for some obscure reasons.

How does this bad attitude affect the team?

You have to be so careful of any level of toxicity on your team. This individual is often driven by ego and self-interest. They have to make sure they position themselves for the most significant raise, bonus, or next promotion! Aka, good luck with team collaboration with this team member.

Guess what? The rest of the team will not want to be around them. When you read the examples of bad attitude this employee can exhibit below, you will see why leaving this person unchecked will lead to increased absenteeism, bullying, and increased turnover!

How to handle a great performer with a bad attitude?

1. Collect concrete evidence

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

2. 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.

3. Address the undesired behaviour

Be very clear with the behaviour 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.

4. 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.

5. Getting an action plan after feedback

Brainstorm together ways that they can overcome their bad attitude. It signals to them that a) you expect them to change, and b) their action plan reflects what you said to them. Since they need to have listened and understood you to develop an action plan, you can have some assurance they got it. If they try and have a bad attitude about it, the conversation is not over until you are satisfied that the action plan reflects what you said the issue is.

6. Final Step

Check-in on the action plan regularly – the level of impact on the rest of the team will dictate, and make sure that you ‘catch them being good and let the employee know that you noticed that they are working on improving.

This will take continued effort on your part and likely follow up conversations as reminders – but it can be done.


Your business's success depends on every employee at every level being as productive and efficient as possible. Toxic employees cannot be allowed to affect an energetic workforce. We've all heard this expression: "One rotten apple spoils the barrel." Well, one toxic employee can ruin an entire workforce.

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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