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I have a small startup company with less than 10 people (I am the owner). There is just one employee that is distracting me and others with his behavior. He is loud speaker, sometimes starts singing and whistling in the office, he talks loudly on the phone. Every small argument with another employee sounds like a fight. Whenever he is not in the office, it is the most productive day as there are zero distractions. He keep chit-chatting with other employees for long periods sometimes and I had to tell them many times to stop that behavior.

I tried talking to him about this behavior and he controls it for weeks and then returns to old habits. Then I talk again and same thing happens. Last time it was so distracting that he was yelling during a conference meeting with my biggest client and the client asked me whether there is a fight in the office and I had to make an excuse that it was a company below us. So I had to make a long meeting afterwards with everybody about this behavior and I was furious during it as the conference call went terribly wrong because of him and the other employee he was arguing with. They apologized and said they won't do it again and now after 1.5 months of the incident, he is back to his old habit.

I feel like he is not controlling that behavior but that behavior is no longer acceptable at the office as it is affecting the company and the performance. I think that the only choice I have now on my desk is to give a written warning about it but it feels a bit of harsh to do it just for talking loud. Is there any way I can control his behavior or should I resort to official written warning?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Dec 18 '15 at 15:57
  • Is he generally well liked by other employees? Also exactly what is he being loud about? For example, if you are at a meeting, does he speak very loudly about his status updates? – Dan Feb 5 '16 at 17:57

10 Answers 10

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This employee is being disruptive to your business and something more formal than a verbal warning is required. He's not only bothering you and other employees during the course of normal business, reducing productivity and effectiveness, but he's disruptive to customer meetings and is straining relationships. The next steps depend on your policy, but his actions need to change.

If he refuses to change, you need to weigh the contributions of this one employee against the productivity of every other employee as well as customer interactions - if he's causing more harm than value, then you may need to go as far as termination. That would be a worst-case situation, though. It is well beyond time to begin escalating your actions as your current methods have been ineffective.

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    Thanks and agreed. Termination is not something I would consider now unless he ignores the written warning afterwards. – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 14:04
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    @Michael C. He is destroying your reputation as a boss, and decreasing the efficiency of your team. You have warned him several times without result. If this employee has no important contribution to the work process then you should fire him (if you have the legal right). Take into account how difficult/easy will be to find somebody else to do his job – vladiz Dec 16 '15 at 16:09
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    @vladiz He contributes but not as good as I want (Doing a satisfactory job). I already discussed that with a lawyer and might get sued because of that. The lawyer suggested to give multiple written warnings before termination to protect the company from a lawsuit. – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 20:32
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    @Michael C. Did you try, during the time when he behaves well, to tell him how satisfied you are from his improvement (some positive motivation). This may keep him calm for longer time, if you praise every improvement – vladiz Dec 17 '15 at 8:03
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    @MichaelC. Where do you live/operate where you can get sued for firing someone? I know it's possible, but curious of your context. – JPhi1618 Dec 17 '15 at 20:28
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Is there any way I can control his behavior or should I resort to official written warning?

An official, written warning may be your best bet for controlling his behavior (assuming that aside from this issue he is a good employee worth keeping around).

You have already talked with him several times, and each time his control lasted only temporarily. So now it might be time to up the ante a bit. You should consider putting him on a written performance improvement plan.

Take some time to think through:

  • Specifically, what you want him to change
  • How that change can be measured
  • When the two of you should revisit the issue to determine if the required level of change has occurred
  • The consequences of not reaching your performance goals

Write it down. Make several copies.

Then, find a quiet time when the two of you can talk at length (include HR if you have one). Explain what he is doing well, then explain what behavior must change if he is to be able to continue his employment.

Review the written performance plan. Make sure he understands. Ask for his signature acknowledging that the two of you have discussed it. Offer to review progress periodically, and to help him succeed as much as you can. But make sure it is clear that the unprofessional behavior must stop now, completely, and permanently.

Then, follow through on the plan. Help him as needed, but at the end of the measurement period assess his improvement or lack thereof. If he hasn't improved to the extent you need, then you must let him go.

Sometimes, if talking doesn't work, a written plan can get people's attention. Unfortunately, many times it still won't work and you need to be prepared to move on. As @Peter wisely points out, if you write a first warning you must already be prepared to write the second, final one

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    Thanks for the great answer. I will take those points while preparing the warning. – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 20:59
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    @MichaelC. Keep in mind, a written warning means after a preset amount of warnings the employee will need to be fired. Usually the second warning is a dismissal. There's nothing worse than giving a written warning and then not follow up on further infractions because you don't want to fire the employee - it sends a clear message that their job is safe no matter what they do. While a PIP adds some flexibility around that, if you write a first warning you must already be prepared to write the second, final one. – Peter Dec 17 '15 at 12:28
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If you're the boss, and if he's doing damage to other's work, then it is your duty to make something. Now, the "something" heavily depends on your management style, but remember that the important thing is the overall performance of the team.

If he's not improving, try to find him a remote place, or homeworking. And if it still does not work..... well, the important thing is that your team is productive.

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    Offer to give him an office with a door... or more accurately to put his desk in a closet -- if he can't hold it down? For some folks that's actually a reasonable solution. I nearly took a closet one time to get away from the water-cooler conversation noise. – keshlam Dec 16 '15 at 14:56
  • yeah, that's the kind of things to be tried before going to more extreme measures. If possible, of course... – gazzz0x2z Dec 16 '15 at 15:36
  • Thanks for the suggestions. Unfortunately working remotely is not an option due to the data sensitivity. – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 20:34
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    I don't think it would be a good idea, his coworkers could think he's being rewarded and become even more resentful towards him, which won't help to increase productivity. – Trickylastname Dec 16 '15 at 21:45
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    @keshlam dude, there should be a timer next to the water-cooler, sometimes I can't even get water because it's fricking crowded there, it's like a bingo for weirdos – Kyle Dec 17 '15 at 11:59
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This person clearly has a negative effect on customer interactions, as well as the productivity of other employees. And yet you seem very reluctant to let him go - and yes, I do understand that it's not an easy thing to look someone in the eye and say "You're fired."

But now consider the situation from everyone else's point of view. This guy is loud and disruptive. He yells at people, which I can tell you first hand is not a pleasant experience. He is unprofessional, and a ticking time bomb - a customer service disaster just waiting to happen.

How do you think your other employees feel about constantly being sabotaged, or delayed by this guy's BS? How do you think they feel when they get a talking to after he embarrasses you in front of your customers?

And finally, how do you think they feel when their boss, seeing all this, only deals with this guy halfheartedly and let's him walk all over him, as well as keep on disrupting them?

If I was witnessing this pattern repeating itself over and over again I would simply come to conclude that you lacked the backbone to stand up for yourself, and worse, for your employees. The boss should be many things, but never a push-over.

Think long and hard about the message your actions are sending your employees.

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    I am ready to take actions for the sake of the company/employees. I already fired one and gave another a written warning for different reasons. The employees are aware that I am willing to take actions if necessary. The reason of my "reluctance" here is that it is clear that he is not doing those on purpose but used to interact like this with his surroundings. Once he gets a warning, he stops and feels guilty for days and then forgets. I am willing to take an immediate action but wanted to see other options. Now i am convinced that taking action is the ONLY option. Thanks for the response. – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 20:56
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    @MichaelC - I wrote my answer based on the limited information in the original question. That's definitely a rough situation, and I commend you for having so much patience with this person - not many managers would. In the end though he's clearly not changing. Maybe he needs therapy or something, who knows? Best of luck! – AndreiROM Dec 17 '15 at 12:59
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I feel like he is not controlling that behavior

So he doesn't do this on purpose and just "slips" again from time to time?
If that's the case, agree on a common keyword you or any other employee tells him, as soon as he recognizes he is talking loudly (e.g. "Bob you are loud again."). Eventually that will change his behavioral pattern.
No need for any drastic actions.

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    Yes. Changing habits is very hard, a remainder each couple of months won't cut it. The employee seems to make a conscious effort to change behavior, but sometimes he puts his mind somewhere else (like solving his job) and forgets about it. More frequent reminders are the solution, not more severe ones. – SJuan76 Dec 16 '15 at 19:10
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    Yes, it is not on purpose as far as I see. At the beginning, I used just to mention it only but didn't feel that my request is taken with its severity (Causing performance issues). So I had to take it up a notch due to that. – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 21:26
  • Something to consider: there could be an underlying condition causing this behavior such as ADD, executive functioning issues, etc., possibly undiagnosed so he may not even be aware of why he can't control this behavior. Even in that case I don't know if you can even suggest that (consult your lawyer, health privacy and all that), and I'm certain you can't ask about it, but it may affect how you feel afterwards if he's not able to get his behavior under control. – Colin Young Dec 17 '15 at 1:37
  • @ColinYoung I'd guess that the "you can't ask about it" part is jurisdiction-specific. At least for the U.S., you're right, though. – reirab Dec 17 '15 at 15:22
  • @reirab Fair enough. I'm pretty sure Canada is similar, and I'd imagine the EU with their strong privacy protections is similar. That's why I suggested legal advice (given that he's used the term "lawyer" US or Canada seemed a reasonable guess). – Colin Young Dec 17 '15 at 15:35
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While you should always be reasonable about minor habits or tics that are peculiar but not a big deal, behaviour that actively and regularly disrupts other employees or the business should always be dealt with. The first step is to talk to the employee directly and it sounds like you've done that many times, but he keeps reverting to his old patter.

At this point, how you handle it depends on how clear you've been in the past. If you avoided a real confrontation and your warnings were softened or said jokingly rather than with a completely serious tone and expression, then you may want to give this employee one absolutely clear warning before you skip to the "final warning."

If you made it clear that this was affecting the company and potentially his job, it's time for a final warning. Ask him to meet with you at the end of the day (so he has time to process what you said, because it sounds like he might react badly) and say something like following:

I've brought this up many times in the past but I need you to work on controlling your volume in the office as well as how you talk to your colleagues. The last time nearly cost us [X] and that simply can't happen again. I've noticed that every time we talk about this you do improve for a while but always revert back to old habits, what's going on?

Pause at this point and hear what he has to say. Assuming that he doesn't have a reasonable explanation (see the Caveat below), follow up with:

I need to make it perfectly clear that going forward you should consider not distracting your colleagues and not arguing in such a loud/hostile manner as conditions of the job. I need someone in your role who won't disrupt our office and I want you to realise that if I don't see a signficant, continued improvement by [X], then I'm going to have to let you go. Do you think you can commit to that?

If he becomes argumentative or combative, don't let him. The end result of that meeting should be that he agrees to improve his behaviour. If he won't commit to that, you're going to have to cut the (informal) improvement plan short and simply fire him.


Caveat: there are a few valid reasons (like a medical issue) for this behaviour that might be outside his control and for which some acommodation can and should be made (check with a lawyer or HR). If that turns out to be the case, you should not use the script above but figure out instead whether you can make a reasonable accomodation for him or what else you can or should do.

  • Yes, it was made clear to him in an official way and his explanation that it slips from him unconsciously and feels guilty about it. It is not a medical reason though.But I would need to give him an improvement plan and a final commitment as you and other person suggested here. Thanks – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 21:12
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    Not sure how I missed this excellent answer before commenting on @mucaho's, but it absolutely could be a medical issue and I'd consider having a serious talk with your lawyer to see if there is some way that he could be nudged toward seeking professional help. I say that because I like to give people every opportunity to improve, even those they may have never considered. You could also just say "screw it, not my problem" and let him figure it out for himself. – Colin Young Dec 17 '15 at 1:49
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Send him for a hearing test.
Costco and I am sure others give them for free.
Not optional.
Sending him during business hours may be the "fair" way to do it.

I myself used to talk loudly, and would slip back to it after being reminded repeatedly.
It seemed like a personality thing... but more like coping with being partially deaf - trying to get people to match my volume so I could understand them.

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    It sounds like from the OP that the employee is singing and whistling. I don't think that would be a sign that he is hearing impaired. I would also think if he is hard of hearing that he would have problems with his job performances. – Dan Feb 5 '16 at 17:54
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    Singing and whistling... agreed, that is just being a jerk. Coping with some hearing loss would not necessarily impact job performance... but often does lead to very loud talking. – Dude From Mars Feb 6 '16 at 20:12
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You could:

  • offer to let him work remotely (win-win for both of you?)
  • give him his own office?
  • fire him.

Honestly, with a startup, the 3rd option might be best. It's not like you haven't given him enough warnings.

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    The first two options are not possible as you said. We are limited in space and cannot allow someone to work remotely – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 21:01
  • @MichaelC. why can't you allow someone to work remotely? Regardless, if that's the case, then I think you're left with the 3rd option. – DA. Dec 16 '15 at 21:10
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    The reason is data sensitivity that we cannot let it leave the office premise (The arrangement with the customers also gives us that limitation for that particular project he is working on) – Michael C. Dec 16 '15 at 21:16
  • Giving the opportunity to work from home or their own office would basically be seen as a reward for being unprofessional, and would cause a lot of resentment with the other employees who manage to do their job fine. – yuikonnu Dec 25 '15 at 11:13
  • @asdasd easy fix there is to open the policy up to everyone. – DA. Dec 25 '15 at 16:51
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From the fact that the cycle goes around every month or two. not every day, I'd guess that he is honestly trying.

You've got a couple of solutions. One, as people have said, is to escalate your response from a verbal warning to written warnings, and eventually fire the guy. This is going to be the easiest for you to carry out, but if the guy is a good employee other than his volume and control issue, you may not want to.

What you've done so far is ask him to be quiet. He remembers for a while, then forgets to modulate his behavior. You wait until it gets bad enough to be a problem again, then ask him to stop (again). The rest of the time, he can't tell whether he's doing well or not; if he could tell, he'd be quiet.

I'm going to suggest a method which will be more work on your part, and probably more work on his part. When the cycle starts again next time, don't just ask him to be quiet. Have a conversation about it. Ask if you can do anything to help him manage his behavior. Listen to his suggestions, and make some of your own.

A few possibilities:

  • You keep a log of times when you notice his volume getting out of control, and either let him know immediately, or at latest at the end of the day. Immediate feedback will help him notice when he's causing problems.

  • If he has a day when he has no or fewer "loud" incidents, let him
    know and say thank you. It means he's putting in some hard work.

  • Meet for a few minutes at the end of the day or the end of the week
    (depending on how bad the problem is), and let him know what he's
    doing right, not just wrong.

Lay out the consequences if he can't control himself better. He's definitely earned a written warning by this point, but I'd be very surprised if a written warning with no help attached was any more effective than a verbal warning. So tell him that if it happens again, he'll be getting that written warning. If you feel his behavior is putting his job in danger, let him know how many written warnings you'll give before you start seriously considering termination. Try not to make it a threat, just information.

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Sure you can use suppressive measures such as written warnings or even consider letting him go.

Let's assume that you'd rather keep him but make him change the behavior. The negative feedback must arrive as soon as he causes distractions. I dunno how reasonable that sounds for your culture but you could maybe have good mileage with support of other employees. They value their ability to work in good conditions, don't they? Yes, it's your duty to ensure their good conditions but that doesn't mean they must be silent. Why cannot your other employee sitting ten meters from the loud guy and having hard time doing his work just say "Johnny, I hear your voice better than my own inner voice and btw there are ten meters distance between us"? This way

  1. feedback comes from many people, not just you
  2. feedback includes reasoning, not just "shut the F up"

protected by Monica Cellio Dec 18 '15 at 16:01

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