How to deal with rotten team members


Here are 5 unsavory types, and how to keep these bad apples from spoiling your team.

Eat too many apples and you get indigestion. Go overboard on certain behaviors and your team gets tainted. The key is balance. When you sort out the bad seeds, so to speak, you can perfectly polish your team. Take a look at these five employee types to spot what makes them ripe or rotten. You'll learn how to turn dysfunctional co-workers into a fruitful team.

Mike Gardner

Personal Pam

No topic is too juicy for Pam. She'll spill her seeds about everything from her love life to her latest body piercing.

Ripe: A proper Pam kindly lets you know she's allergic to walnuts—in case you're planning to make brownies for her birthday Thursday. She might share her addiction to American Idol with you, but she'd never discuss her boyfriend's addiction to porn. Her small talk makes her the social glue that helps hold your team together.

Rotten: Poor Pam is socially clueless. That's why she mistakes your horrified stare as interest and eagerly dares you to touch her mystery rash. When she opens her mouth, you're terrified by what might come out, like the details of her family crisis, criminal record, or even her latest BM.

If you work with a Pam: There are some topics you should never discuss with co-workers, no matter how good of friends you are, says Sharon DeNayer, Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Windsor Veterinary Clinic in Windsor, Colo. So draw a professional line. When verbose employees start to cross boundaries, cut them off with a simple, "That's way too much information," or WTMI for short.

Of course, team members don't have to be serious and censored all the time, says Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and president of Bridging the Gap in Sparta, Mich. A little sharing helps bond your team. But every employee needs to be discreet in front of clients. You don't want to lose a client because a co-worker doesn't know when to shut her trap. Next time Pam starts prattling on about private matters, point out that work isn't the place for this discussion.

Get-Ahead Gail

Gail will stop at nothing to worm her way to the top. She'll lie, cheat, steal, gossip, and flirt to get ahead. The bitter type, Gail turns green with envy at co-workers' successes.

Ripe: A good Gail works hard. She takes on additional responsibilities and furthers her education without being asked. She's not one to brag, but she's proud of her accomplishments and shares her most recent success—and yours— with a smile.

Rotten: A Get-Ahead Gail pulls people down instead of building herself up. She's the first to point out others' mistakes and the last to admit her own. Malicious and ambitious—and perhaps a bit delusional—Gail gossips to make herself feel and look better.

If you work with a Gail: "Gossip usually starts with one person who enjoys stirring the pot," says Pam Weakley, Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich. "But then it spreads like wildfire." To douse the fire and reign in the ruthless employee, Weakley says you need to do three things.

First, don't pass along the rumor, no matter how juicy it is. Second, find out who started the fire. Third, let your practice manager know the rumor mill is churning so she can corner your Get-Ahead Gail and reprimand her. Weakley's hospital has an employee handbook that outlines disciplinary actions for issues like gossip and demoralizing behavior.

"If your hospital has something like that, don't be afraid to use it," she says. "You'd be surprised how a person's attitude can change for the better after she comes back from a three-day suspension." For a free disciplinary action outline, visit and search for "rules of conduct."

Sullen Sally

Sally seeks the bruised and brown spots in every situation. Mushy and melancholy, Sally goes soft instead of looking for a solution.

Ripe: Prudence and pessimism aren't the same thing. While it's OK to examine an idea from all angles, it's quite another to go fishing for flaws. A savvy Sally has forethought and sees potential potholes in plans then brainstorms how to fill those ruts. She doesn't bring her personal problems to work, either.

Rotten: Sally complains, nitpicks, and criticizes everyone and everything. Being negative seems to be her only source of joy. Why else would she veto every proposal team members make to improve the hospital and never submit her own ideas? And, of course, she always has a personal sob story to share with the group.

If you work with a Sally: In close quarters, one bad mood can quickly ruin everyone's day, Weakley says. To stop the downward spiral before it starts, Weakley asks staff to check their attitudes at the practice door. While this approach works for those having an off day, it doesn't solve the problems of those who constantly cry, "Why me? Poor me."

Gair recommends calling these true pessimistic employees out on their bad behavior and asking for solution-oriented thinking. For example, Gair asks employees to go to the supervisor with three suggested solutions to the problem.

When you do address the depressed, do so privately, DeNayer says. If Sally continues to infect the hospital's culture after you've approached her, it's time for group therapy, she says. "And, yes, your hospital has a culture whether you realize it or not," DeNayer says. You can usually find a summary of your culture, including which behaviors aren't acceptable, in your employee handbook. So if a dark cloud has formed over your hospital, schedule a team meeting as soon as possible to review—or redo—your culture, DeNayer says.

Doormat Dan

Dan always works himself to the core. He's the technician who does his job, answers phones, schedules appointments, and files while the receptionist watches TV in the staff lounge because her favorite show is on.

Ripe: A dutiful Dan knows the importance of being a team player. He's always willing to lend a hand. But while he'll cover a shift for a sick co-worker, he's not one to be duped or manipulated into doing more than his fair share because he knows that's not good for the practice.

Rotten: Doormat Dan bends over backwards to keep the hospital running smoothly. He picks up shifts, paper, even his co-workers' laundry.

If you work with a Dan: There are a lot of reasons why people act as doormats. Some team members may be people-pleasers who avoid confrontation at all costs. Others are simply of the mentality that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. Regardless of the reason, DeNayer has a one-size-fits all solution: assignments. Break up tasks by day and employees, she says. And that goes for all team members, no matter what the chore.

"I've seen senior team members delegate tasks to the new kids on the block, as if they're above folding the hospital's laundry," DeNayer says. "I tell them I've been at the practice the longest and I'm not above folding laundry, so neither are they." By assigning duties, it's also easy to see who's not doing their part and who's doing too much, she says. Then you can call for outside help.

DeNayer brings in a consultant to help coach employees who may need to be more assertive. She also sets up time for the consultant to speak with those who may be too aggressive. "Outside help can resolve a lot of problems," she says. "For some reason, team members need to hear it from someone outside the practice for it to sink in."

Can't afford a consultant? Mandy Stevenson, RVT, a technician at Rolling Meadows Animal Hospital in Adrian, Mo., and a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member recommends appointing employees with stronger personalities as mentors to those less dominant.

Hothead Hattie

Hattie's quick to anger but slow to change. She can be the apple of the boss's eye, but she'll bite a co-worker's head off for a simple mistake.

Ripe: Hattie seems to be the perfect employee. Prompt, detail-oriented, dependable, and thorough, she always puts in 110 percent—and expects the same from everyone. She's direct without being rude.

Rotten: Hattie lashes out, overreacts, and often lacks diplomacy. She's the gal who calls clients heartless and stupid if they don't comply with all of the doctor's recommendations.

If you work with a Hattie: Hotheads are the worst because they're the hardest to change, Stevenson says. But that doesn't make them a hopeless cause. Gair says that before you write them off, you should consider the fact that a lot of hotheads are actually dedicated employees who just get bogged down with accuracy and details.

"Some folks become so focused on the task that they forget they need people to make the practice most effective," she says. So remind them that they need to work together peacefully and let them know that while it's OK to be direct and fast-paced, it's ineffective for team success to be demeaning or demoralizing to others.

If your hothead is in denial about her aggressive or antisocial behavior, it's time to talk to your manager, doctor, or owner, Stevenson says. Let your boss know that Hattie's driven personality is actually driving people away by presenting specific examples like Hattie yelled at a client who's dog marked the exam room. "Hotheads are usually hard workers," Stevenson says. "So your boss may be reluctant to take action. If that's the case, there might not be a way to fix the situation. If it's really upsetting you, it may be time for you to move on."

Drama Dharma

Work with an attention-seeker? Click here to learn how to handle her.

One bad apple is all it takes to turn a productive team into a poisoned one. So spot check your co-workers regularly to keep bitter team members at bay. If you do find some dysfunction among your group, just put in a little work. Then your team can taste the sweet success of being a matured bunch.

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