Whistling While He Works

A noisy employee needs to be told to quiet down. But it's also important to find out what's behind his constant disruptions

By Karen E. Klein

Q: Short of firing him, how do I deal with an employee who plays his radio loudly, whistles constantly, and can't go more than 10 minutes without talking? His annoying behavior angers and disturbs the entire office.

---- T.R.M., Springfield, Mass.

A: Inform this employee that his behavior is disruptive, and let him know the impact it has on his co-workers and supervisors. Lay out your concerns about his job performance and draw up specific expectations about how his behavior needs to change.

This employee should be told up front that if his behavior is controlled and he meets your expectations, he won't be fired. Meet with his direct supervisor to go over the problems, and then plan to have the two of them meet with you regularly until the trouble is resolved. Start with weekly meetings, and do them more or less often as the situation plays out. Develop a plan for improvement of his behavior and make it part of his performance evaluation.

Finding out why the employee is acting in such a disruptive manner is important. "Maybe he's bored with his job and needs to be given different or additional responsibilities," suggests J.M. Evosevich, principal at the Wayne (Penn.)-based Global Consulting Partnership. "This could be part of the action plan as well."

If things don't improve and this employee is so important to your company that you're really loath to fire him, get assistance from a human-relations consultant or professional coach who can do a more comprehensive assessment of the problem. An outside professional will be neutral and objective, and may be able to gain information from the problem employee and his co-workers that you can't.

"The employee may simply be a symptom of a larger problem," Evosevich says. "Maybe he's acting out due to dislike of the supervisor, whom others in the office may dislike as well. Perhaps the supervisor is using this employee as a scapegoat." If there's tension between your employees and their supervisor, you may find yourself losing more workers unless the situation is defused.

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