I have an employee who reports to me who refuses to behave within accepted social norms, when it comes to respect for their co-workers. The individual in question is blunt, rude, and aggressively argumentative. Some examples of their behavior I'm having a problem with:

  • Clipping their nails at a desk (in an open office layout), something many people find gross and inappropriate to do at your desk
  • Loudly clearing their throat and hacking up phlegm into their garbage can on a routine basis (no they have no illness around this)
  • If the individual doesn't get their away immediately, they will raise their voice and basically yell at whoever they are speaking to, including their manager (me). This includes swearing. Commonly becomes a problem when there are two ways of doing something with no objective winner so I make a decision.
  • Will commonly interrupt people if they are just engaging in "small talk" as what they have to say is "more important"
  • Will frequently talk down to other employees

I've spoken to the individual about their behavior and made it clear that it wasn't acceptable, however they refuse to change and said that basically everyone else is in the wrong and that they don't care what everyone thinks about them, as long as they do their job.

Now, when it comes to programming, the individual is quite capable and performs well, but there is more to a developer than programming. Interpersonal skills go a long way.

What would be an appropriate course of action for this problem? The individual doesn't seem to care/believe there is a problem. I don't want to fire this individual as they are a productive worker, but for their own sake, I want to fix these interpersonal problems.

  • Does your workplace have a formal Personal Improvement Plan process? Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 23:15
  • 3
    The only thing a PIP will do is providing legal ammunition for firing the guy. If your country laws permit it, fire him as soon as possible. Your time and energy and those of the affected colleagues is probably more worth than what the guy's programming adds in value. He thinks he's irreplaceable and acts like a super star. Is he really?
    – daraos
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 8:36
  • 2
    If social etiquette is important to you, fire him. If his performance is more important to you, keep him. Why do you ask us?
    – Nobody
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 10:15
  • 3
    Instead of "you need to change your behaviour" say "if you want to keep working here, you need to change your behaviour".
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 15:03
  • 8
    Does your office have a storage room in the basement? Can you run a LAN connection down there? Do you have any more red staplers? Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 16:54

4 Answers 4


Find a reason to put them on a PIP, this behaviour and especially the defiance of authority is bad for general morale. It's also a potential danger in the workplace as the employee could easily find himself in a fist fight if one of the other staff loses their temper with him.

Once on a PIP he will either realise that his job is very much on the line and wake his ideas up or you will find that he is incorrigible and you'll have to sack him. In either case start looking for a replacement just in case.

  • 2
    I don't think the OP is going to have to look very far to find a reason for a PIP. The main difficulty is going to be setting specific objectives. Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 1:13
  • 1
    @PatriciaShanahan just make some up, the real objective is to see if he is worth keeping or not. You'll find out real quick if there is an attitude change.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 1:26
  • 2
    Honestly, "yelling and swearing at a colleague" is probably grounds for immediate firing, so this shouldn't be very hard.
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 12:49

I have worked with many types of people gifted in technology and lacking in social skills and awareness, e.g. Lots of programmers! My wife works with many kids with special needs too. There are many possible factors that influence their social "oddness" and hard to pin down.

Consider that you may be dealing with someone on the autism spectrum or "mild aspergers", which is partly responsible for their behavior that you may find appears "rude" but they do not necessarily intend it in that way. Or they are just a spoiled kid and a jerk.

I found this in a quick Google search: The Employer's Guide to Asperger's Syndrome (PDF) http://www.antiochne.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/ASDEmpGuide.pdf

It is great that you discussed with them how their actions are impacting others, but maybe it needs to be presented less as a "they think" or "we think" vs "you" and more along the lines you feel you are heading, which is what is expected and acceptable if they want to keep working here.

It may take a lot more effort for them to modify their behavior than you would expect, but with proper guidance, most people, even with full autism are able to "learn" how to play by the basic rules of expected social behavior -- over time.

  • If the individual does have some form of autism, he may be entitled to reasonable accommodations, but it's his responsibility to notify the company. For the OP try to find out is legally risky (HIPAA) and could make it more difficult to fire that employee later without risking a discrimination claim. And if he does not have any sort of condition but feels the OP is implying that he does, he could be offended and tell HR. Nothing wrong with going the extra mile to help an employee, but in this case there is no reason for the manager to jeopardize his own standing in the company.
    – Pedro
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 12:18

I've spoken to the individual about their behavior and made it clear that it wasn't acceptable, however they refuse to change and said that basically everyone else is in the wrong and that they don't care what everyone thinks about them, as long as they do their job.

Is this person's behavior making everyone's productivity suffer?

If so, it is a loss to our organization, and this person is a liability.

Something to bring to upper management.

You counseled the said employee, he refuses to change, it is affecting performance of others, you are losing profits, your organization's bottom line.


You are coming here and asking for advice because:

  1. You don't have priorities.

  2. You are not willing to fight for your priorities, especially since you don't have priorities.

Your failure to set priorities makes it impossible for you to stick to them let alone fight for them. If you don't set priorities, then what business do you have being a manager?

  1. Are you clear in your mind that to be an effective developer on your team, said developer must be effective at functioning as an effective member of your team?

  2. Are you clear in your mind that in order to be an effective member of your team, said developer must interact well with the other members of the team, and well enough to motivate the other members of the team to want to work with him? If so, then talking down to the other members of the team is inappropriate. So is raising their voice and engaging in abusive language. So is spitting phlegm in waste baskets. Your problem is that you are not putting a cost on his behavior. Your subordinate is sensing your inability or unwillingness to put a cost on his behavior and is running away with it. For a team to work as a team, team members must treat each other with respect. By failing to put a price tag on the lack of respect, you just made treating others with respect optional. Don't complain afterward that you don't have a team.

  3. You yourself need to be clear in your mind whether his ability as an individual coder trumps his inability, unwillingness to work with the team. Because if you are clear in your mind that his ability as an individual coder trumps everything else, it is useless for you to come here looking for advice - You made your trade-off, live with it. Personally, I find the idea of promoting such an individual to a team lead position to be than repulsive. It would be an understatement to say that such a promotion would send the wrong message as to what it takes to be promoted. But then, I am not the manager of your team - you are. You are the one who has to decide what it takes to be and stay on your team, as well as what it takes to be a lead on your team. It's your prerogative as a manager to make these decisions.

  4. Should you decide that the subordinate must clean up his act or go home, then you need to design a PIP for your subordinate and hold him accountable for complying with it. And your PIP must be specifically designed to address the issues you have with your subordinate. The PIP is your way out of the predicament that he put you into. The PIP is also his way out of well-deserved disciplinary action including demotion and termination.

"however they refuse to change and said that basically everyone else is in the wrong and that they don't care what everyone thinks about them, as long as they do their job" It's up to you, as a manager, to decide whether you are going to let stand this interpretation of doing the work. Again, if you decide to let it stand, don't come here looking for advice - You made up your mind, and that's all there is to it.

As a footnote, I rarely had to fire anybody, because they know from the outset what my expectations are, and that I am serious about firing them for not meeting expectations. Those who are prepared for a fight rarely get into one.

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