Advice

Fixer: Long-serving employees have attitude problem

2 Sep 2021 By PM Editorial

How can we stop their behaviour rubbing off on younger members of the team?

There are a couple of long-serving individuals within my organisation who have key knowledge of the business, but play on this position with the view that they’re indispensable. They are grumpy and always blame other departments rather than admit their team has made a mistake. I’m often told that’s the way they’ve always been, but I don’t think that’s acceptable, and now a young, new member of the team is beginning to demonstrate similar traits. This kind of behaviour isn’t appropriate, but can it be changed if it’s been allowed for so long?

In our experience, negative behaviours and attitudes can be contagious in the workplace and where they have been left for a long time, they are hard to correct and can seriously damage team morale and performance.

How supportive would the organisation’s senior management be to challenging these behaviours? If the organisation genuinely wants to tackle the issues, they need to deal with the ‘untouchability’ issue and be clear that they have a zero-tolerance approach to poor attitudes, including explaining what will happen for those who exhibit them.

If the individuals in question have key knowledge that you need to retain, start by ensuring that teams are required to share knowledge and experience across teams to avoid any single points of failure and ensure the continued success of the organisation. Those displaying poor behaviours may not cooperate if it makes them feel vulnerable, which is why it is important that senior leadership are supportive of the change and not afraid to take reasonable action, if needed.

This isn’t a quick or easy fix, but it does require firm commitment from leaders to manage the conduct of their people and be role models in displaying professional behaviours which reflect their culture and values.

Remember to approach the problem as if the shoe were on the other foot, and keep work human.


Husband and wife team Rob and Nicci Birley have run their own full service HR consultancy, Cornerstone Resources, since late 2017, partnering with small businesses and charities throughout the UK. Prior to this, they both spent more than 20 years each working in a range of specialist and generalist HR roles across a range of sectors.

Nicci specialises in management coaching, mentoring, recruitment, change management and improving organisational performance. Rob specialises in complex employee issues and salaries, pensions and benefits.

Their replies are written in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of People Management or the CIPD, nor are they a substitute for professional legal advice. Not all queries submitted can be answered, and personal replies are not possible. To pose an anonymous query, visit bit.ly/pmfixer

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