How to handle a hostile employee

How to handle a hostile employee

How to handle a hostile employee Delivering bad news is part and parcel of working in HR – whether you have to discipline, demote or even discharge an employee, there’s always a chance they’re going to take it badly and become aggressive.  HRM asked three HR professionals what they’d do in the dreaded situation…

“I’ve encountered this many times in my career,” reveals HR director Ashley White. “The first rule of thumb is to never deliver bad news in a secluded room.”

“If tempers flare, your next thought must be to remain calm,” says White, consider how you would feel if you’d received the same news.

 “Empathize, but don’t do it in a way that seems insincere,” she advises. “Plan for potential aggressive behavior and think through alternate paths to get you to a better solution if the conversation goes that route.”

“When an employee does become aggressive, it's important to not rise to their level,” says Joseph Campagna, founder of My Virtual HR Director. “You need to remain calm and keep your voice low and level.”

Campagna suggests saying things that might lower their anger level like; "I'm sorry you feel that way," or "I understand that this is difficult news to receive. I want to help you to process this and move ahead positively.” However, he insists HR professionals shouldn’t say anything that will negate the message.

“Emergency situations aside, if you back down or change the message, you are only making it more difficult in the long run,” he warns.  

“If this is not a termination situation, it can be effective to end the meeting,” advises Campagna. “Let the employee take a break away from work and schedule a follow up.”

“The conversation can be something like, ‘I want to reiterate that this should be a positive turning point. It is an opportunity for you to recognize the problem/issue and move forward with a plan for progress. Now that you know, you can correct it and we can move on. Why don't you take the rest of the day to reflect on the opportunity and we can meet again tomorrow to follow up."

Hiring expert Carol Quinn takes a slightly tougher stance – “Investigate, document and, if true, terminate. If you don't, it sends a message that aggressiveness is tolerated.”

Jim Collins might have emphasized the importance of ‘getting the right people on the bus’ but, according to Quinn, it’s just as important to “get the wrong ones off.”

“Many companies fail to see the role they pay in creating their own culture of mediocrity,” says Quinn.

Have you ever had to handle an exceptionally hostile empoyee? Share your story below. 

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  • Sue 2015-01-22 1:43:25 PM
    We all in our business have experienced this behaviour. For personal safety sake I also have a personal escape strategy. I know where the exits are, my cell is on speed dial and I let my colleauges know I am heading into a difficult situation. IF off site I make sure the managers responsible for the decision are in the room.

    My unionized environment preclude instant firing unless for extraordinary circumstances, which I have done too but not before supsensions while investigating the allegations.
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  • John W. Rushton CHRL 2015-01-22 3:40:42 PM
    Recently I met with an employee for an investigation meeting and I allowed a "friend" to accompany him to provide moral support. Half-way through the meeting the friend turned out to be his lawyer and she & employee went bananas.She is advocating for him.They became very loud and argumentative. I tried to clam them down, finally after 3 times asked them to leave, lawyer refused. I was with an operations manager. I had to demand both leave, but in order to be heard had to raise my voice. Finally got up and opened the door and both still refused to leave. Eventually they did but filed a complaint (ongoing) with my HR assoc (ONT) that I abused them and the ethics of my professional designation. Thankfully the Operations person was there to witness all of this. My lesson learned - walk out and if necessary call the police to get them off the premises
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  • Joanne 2015-01-26 12:41:29 PM
    John, sorry to hear you went through that but I never allow a "friend" when I am doing an investigation I learned the same lesson as you a decade ago.
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