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How to Write Up an Employee for a Bad Attitude: 9 Tips

— October 13, 2021

Reporting bad attitudes or behavior is always a thorny issue as it may make the employee defensive.

What is one tip for writing up an employee for a bad attitude?

To help business leaders manage employees with behavior issues, we asked HR professionals and business leaders this question for their best advice. From focusing on the impact of actions on the company to setting a timeline of expectations, there are several suggestions that may help you address employees on your team who bring a hostile mood to the office. 

Here are nine tips for writing up an employee for a negative attitude: 

  • Provide Warnings and Feedback First
  • Highlight Creating a Positive Influence
  • Check Your Biases
  • Focus on the Impact of Their Actions
  • Use Company Policies Highlight Your Reasoning
  • Be Specific When Explaining the Write Up
  • Keep Detailed Documentation
  • Set a Timeline of Expectations
  • Ask for Signatures


Provide Warnings and Feedback First 

Before writing up an employee, at least one conversation should have taken place to address the situation. A bad attitude is never acceptable in the workplace, but it’s very important to set clear expectations and to help our employees be happy and successful. Our staff feedback also ties into our expectations of the curriculum and how certain behaviors affect performance in the classroom. 

I would never consider disciplinary action against an employee until I had first given them a verbal or written warning. Make sure they’ve been given a fair chance to correct their unwanted behavior and that they’re completely aware of what they’re doing that’s unacceptable before taking official action with signed documentation that will go into their permanent personnel files. Consider providing performance feedback and further training for employees who may not yet exemplify your organization’s core values.

Jeanne Kolpek, Cadence Education

Highlight Creating a Positive Influence 

Writing up an employee for a bad attitude is a least favorite activity, but an important one. If the attitude persists, the impact on the rest of the team is massive. I find the times when I come from the heart and speak about the specifics of the problem and why it’s important, it generally leads to a positive turnaround and change in attitude. 

Centering the conversation around how this employee can have a positive impact on the team and how that shows up usually is enough to shake the bad attitude away. Often we don’t even realize the energy and attitude we bring to work, and having a wake-up call can remove those blinders. 

Jenn Christie, Markitors

Check Your Biases 

Reflect on your own contribution to the situation. What could you have done differently that might have elicited a different response? If this were a different colleague on your team, would you be reading their behavior in the same way?

Joaquín Roca, Minerva

Focus on the Impact of Their Actions

A write-up due to the bad attitude of an employee can become an emotional ordeal for a manager. The mistake in documenting such behavior is to focus solely on the behavior. Every role is expected to deliver a defined set of deliverables. So it is more effective to steer your focus toward the fact that the behavior causes an impact on some functions, tasks, projects, or outcomes in some ways. 

The best way to document or write about the bad attitude of employees is to start with that impact on the metrics measured to keep track of outcomes, results, or task quality expected. Once you identify what did not come up to the standards, then you can document the root cause (e.g. the behavior or attitude). When you take that approach, you stay rational and don’t mix your emotions into your factual observations.

Dr. Raman K. Attri, Performance Scientist

Use Company Policies to Explain Your Reasoning

For effectively reprimanding an employee, your reasoning must be logical and cannot stem from emotions or biases. The best way to present your viewpoint is by comparing the employee’s behavior with your company policies and make note of where the disparity lies.

Riley Beam, Douglas R. Beam, P.A.

Be Specific When Explaining the Write Up

Reporting bad attitudes or behavior is always a thorny issue as it may make the employee defensive. When doing so, be sure to mention specific actions, words, and instances where they erred rather than making vague claims like “lack of team spirit” or “bad behavior.” If a specific action was directed towards a particular individual, discuss if they would like to raise a complaint. Finally, give them the time and space to recognize their mistake, discuss their thoughts, and clearly lay down the future action expected from them.

Joe Flanagan, VelvetJobs

Keep Detailed Documentation 

Writing up an employee is never something that a leader looks forward to, and it’s definitely not something you plan. However, it can often be a necessity, especially to preserve your company culture or the cohesiveness of your team. The best tip possible when this occurs is to document absolutely everything.

Employer giving employee documentation; image via, U.S. Air Force illustration/Airman 1st Class Jose L. Leon, Public domain.
Image via, U.S. Air Force illustration/Airman 1st Class Jose L. Leon, Public domain.

If another employee is involved, include their part in the event as well as any repercussions of those actions. Create a straightforward plan of action, as well as what actions will be taken if this type of behavior persists. Do you remember that old saying about “one bad apple?” Well, it’s absolutely true, so act on these situations quickly and with firmness.

Marc Atiyeh, Pawp

Set a Timeline of Expectations

Be sure to set clear expectations and a timeline for the improvements in behavior. This clear and direct communication will help them to fully understand the expectations. It will also outline what the consequences are for them if they do not implement the changes. 

Mike Pasley, Allegiant Goods

Ask for Signatures

Get signatures for all parties involved in whatever situation has brought on this write-up, as well as any witnesses. This is an important step for documenting that everyone involved agrees that what is being reported is both true and serious enough to lead to writing up a particular employee.

Mike Clare, Mood Health

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