By Carol Nibley

Several years ago, I consulted for a technology company that had one very big problem—“Stuart.” Every one of the 50 or so employees on Stuart’s team came to me at some point during the three-year period of his employment to complain about him, and he became the topic of many management meetings as the company tried to soften the impact of his rude behaviors toward his co-workers. Stuart had technical expertise that no one else in the company could match, and a key customer was willing to commit to a significant deal as long as Stuart was on the job. For a start-up company, revenue was king. By association, therefore, Stuart behaved as the king and expected everyone else to take his insults and cave to his demands. Eventually, he was offered an attractive deal to work from home, and the complaints lessened.

The “Stuart” profile employee can be in every company and is especially difficult to manage. A poorly performing employee with a bad attitude is much easier to discipline and terminate than a high-achieving employee whose talents are critical to the success of the team. But do the costs of keeping such an employee offset the damage he or she can cause? Especially troublesome is when “Stuart” is a department head or even the leader of the organization.

In my experience, allowing any employee (even one at the top) to treat others poorly will have detrimental consequences for the company. Teamwork, morale, and productivity suffer, and ultimately the bottom line feels the impact. When a rude employee crosses the line with bullying, racist/sexist/ethnic insults, or out-of-control behaviors such as screaming and yelling, the company now has potential legal concerns on top of lost productivity.

Next month we’ll discuss strategies for dealing with difficult employees.

By the way, I often see LinkedIn updates about Stuart who seems to change jobs rather frequently.


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