Addressing Bad Behavior with Good Policies
5 mins read

Addressing Bad Behavior with Good Policies

Addressing Bad Behavior with Good PoliciesThe COVID-19 outbreak (and subsequent lockdowns) have taken their toll on us in our workplaces and our homes — and we continue to pay the price in many ways. Have employees and managers become so accustomed to working remotely that they have completely forgotten that humans are social beings and that social interaction is essential to our well-being? Sometimes it seems that way. I have spent most of my career working on and managing large global projects. The issues that have arisen have always seemed to center around head office and/or remote location considerations, but nothing so major that it has made it difficult for the project team(s) to work together.

So after a year of working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, my team and I noticed a noticeable and disturbing change in the behavior of most of our client teams. And it wasn’t pretty. Client teams were becoming increasingly infected with what I’ll diplomatically call “bad behavior.”

Our core business is working with and helping difficult teams – so we often get pulled in. However, some of our client teams now seem to be exhibiting some very different traits. Employee behaviors have changed dramatically, and I think this is likely due to increased isolation and disconnection from their normal work environment. We now often see employees feeling emboldened to act in ways that in the past were easily identified as unprofessional at best and career-limiting at worst. These include:

  • Resisting Corporate Policy Changes in a Passive-Aggressive Manner
  • Taking on other defined roles when they do not wish to participate in their current roles
  • Avoiding meetings altogether

These actions can easily slow down the progress of projects or innovations, lead to undesirable or harmful behavior from other employees, and spread like a virus through work groups, negatively impacting the existing culture or, in the case of a largely distributed organization, creating a toxic culture.

Managers need to try harder

These behaviors have created a need for strong managers who have the ability to identify and confront this behavior. They also need executive management support with the resources to change policies and culture at the employee level, and the authority to enforce penalties when necessary. Unfortunately, these problems have led to a lack of managerial (and executive) courage and costly, ineffective workarounds.

This can often be the result of:

  • NO having the skills to cope with these behaviors
  • NO creating and/or supporting penalties to manage these behaviors
  • NO being aware of or concerned about the cultural influence

New challenges… and opportunities

As you might imagine, an organization struggling with these types of problems is not an innovative organization, but it may not understand why.

I was worried that this might be considered anecdotal, but there is a growing discussion around etiquette coaches (LA Times and Business Insider). But organizations are actually looking at this as a solution to this behavioral phenomenon. I think they are approaching it from the wrong side of the problem. They are trying to address the symptoms instead of getting to the root cause. People know how to behave in a business setting… they choose not to.

Addressing these behavioral issues should be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity. Here are some ways to get started:

  1. Really understand how a remote policy will affect your people, your managers, your organization, and your culture. Don’t just download a “how to create a remote policy” guide from the internet, talk to your people and find out how the policy will really affect them.
  2. Create specific policies and procedures to address weaknesses. Your employees are individuals, treat them that way and let your policies reflect that – they may not agree all the time, but they will appreciate your efforts.

Culture will take more time and therefore more effort, but I believe it will yield the greatest return on investment as your culture grows and matures. It will be the foundation that supports and feeds all the policies that are created to make your organization whole, no matter where in the world your people work. So the fruit of the work is worth the effort.