The 10 Most Frustrating Employee Work Habits & What You Can Do to Prevent Them

Michael J. Pires
March 4, 2009 — 3,499 views  
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We've all experienced it, or at least know someone who has: an employee who is habitually late to work, takes extended coffee breaks, or makes personal calls during work time - and leaves you or your co-workers to pick up the pieces. Work habits like these can put a damper on your bottom line. But, with a few simple changes you can turn these challenging employees into your star employees.

Below are some of the most frustrating employee work habits and what you can do to prevent them:

1. Absenteeism and tardiness. Beyond the monetary costs associated with missed work, absences also inconvenience customers and co-workers, slow productivity, and can impact employee morale. To combat absenteeism and tardiness, create, clearly communicate, and strictly enforce a policy on attendance and punctuality. To stress the importance of regular attendance, let employees know you mean business from the get-go; this includes discussions of the issue during the pre-hire and orientation processes. And don't forget to reiterate company expectations regarding attendance to existing employees as well. To do so, consider periodically circulating the company's attendance policy and broaching the subject during staff meetings. Another effective way to ensure employees meet company expectations related to attendance is by tying it to performance. Inform employees that attendance records will be assessed annually as part of the performance review process and that excessive absenteeism will result in disciplinary action.

2. Using work time for personal business. With the surge of technology in the workplace, employees are readily exposed to electronic communication and its ease of use. As such, some employees are tempted to spend work time emailing family and friends, shopping, or accessing social media websites such as MySpace or Facebook. To help deter employees from using work time - and resources - for personal reasons, consider developing a policy on electronic monitoring. The policy should indicate under what circumstances employees may be monitored, a specific list of what company resources are subject to monitoring (i.e., telephones, email, internet, etc), and that employees should not have any reasonable expectation of privacy while on the job.

3. Failure to work well with others. Some employees can't get a long with others, or simply prefer to work independently. While independent work may be necessary, it may also be critical for employees to work together on certain projects. To ensure employees get along and are productive when working together, consider implementing programs designed to foster teamwork. One option is the use of assessments in order to pair individuals based on personality traits that compliment one another. Another option is to train managers on how to build effective teams. It's the manager's responsible to create an informal and relaxed environment which promotes the even exchange of ideas among co-workers.

4. Taking extended breaks. Although many states require that employees be entitled to break and meal periods when working a certain number of hours per day, some abuse the privilege.Employees reporting back to work even just a few minutes after their break ends should be subject to immediate disciplinary action.A verbal warning may be all that's needed at first; however, an employee that habitually returns to work later than scheduled should be subject to more extensive discipline. Remind employees of the company's policy on break periods and make sure you strictly enforce it.

5. Lack of communication. Failing to keep co-workers informed of important business-related issues can be a major problem and can result in fellow employees acting on incorrect information, or even worse, "spinning their wheels". To help promote the importance of communication, develop systems that require employees to keep one another informed, such as a review process in which employees must get approval before moving onto the next step or knowledge management software that requires employees log the projects they're working on, the status, and any important notes pertaining to the project.

6. Talking on cell phones. Cell phone use in the workplace distracts co-workers and takes away from time that is supposed to be spent working. Reiterate the company's policy on cell phone use and communicate to employees that the use of cell phones during work time is strictly prohibited. This includes making calls, receiving calls, and text messaging.

7. Negative attitudes. Employee attitudes can rub off on co-workers, and worst of all, clients and customers.To help prevent negativity from spreading like wildfire, managers need to get to the root of the problem.Employees with attitude or performance problems are often experiencing underlying issues such as family problems, financial troubles, health issues, and the like. It's important for managers to work with these employees to uncover the true cause of their actions and to set realistic goals toward improvement. If your company utilizes an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), provide the employee with contact information and inform him or her that everything discussed will remain confidential.

8. "That's not in my job description" syndrome. Some employees may think that because a job responsibility is not specifically stated in their job description that they have the option to choose not to do it. Bluntly put, employees unwilling to do what you ask of them are guilty of insubordination. Let these employees know that a job description is only intended to provide basic guidance relating to one's job requirements and is not a full listing of all duties required of the position; consider including a statement in job descriptions that reiterates this. Also remember to update job descriptions regularly as a position grows and evolves with changing business needs.

9. Gossip. Unfortunately, gossip is all too common in today's workplace with profound affects on productivity, morale, trust, and even one's chances for career progression. When a rumor spreads, it's the supervisor's responsibility to defuse its damaging effects, meet with the parties involved, and resolve the conflict.

10. Time wasters. Procrastination and poor time management can cause missed deadlines, shoddy work quality, and unnecessary stress - not to mention the fact that, for the company, time wasted is money wasted. To ensure employees are maximizing their time spent at work, managers need to help by setting clear expectations, assisting employees in planning and prioritizing their day, and providing guidance if needed.

You may have thought some of your employees were lost causes. Maybe those who are habitually late for work or those that just don't know how to manage their time efficiently, and subsequently, rarely meet deadlines. But, by clearly communicating company policies and strictly enforcing them, employee behavior will likely improve. And those that still don't shape up, ship out!


About the Author

Michael Pires is the President of, an award-winning online human resources support and information portal providing on-demand access to downloadable forms, online background checking tools, plain-English State and Federal employment laws, Employee Handbooks and much more. Visit today.

Michael J. Pires