4 risks executive leaders take when abrasive behavior is allowed

4 Risks Executive Leaders Take When Abrasive Behavior Is Allowed

Addressing abrasive or any disruptive behavior in the workplace is messy and uncomfortable.

But the risk of avoiding these difficult conversations is allowing the behavior to continue and infect your organization with a toxic culture.

What makes addressing abrasive behavior even more challenging is if the employee is a top performer. This means they have expert industry knowledge and are high revenue generators, yet their behavior is contributing to employee complaints, turnover, and suffering. 

Whether an employee does enough just to get by or they are a top performer, it’s up to the executive leadership team to intervene. 

The good news is, the research at the Boss Whispering Institute shows an 82% success rate of leaders eliminating abrasive behaviors when an executive leader intervenes in a timely manner.  This change starts with the leader’s manager setting clear expectations that abrasive behavior won’t be tolerated and holding the employee accountable for improvement.  

The following is a list of potential risks that come from allowing abrasive behavior. The self-reflection questions are intended to help you gain self-awareness of what’s getting in your way of addressing abrasive behaviors so you take a stand to protect the health of your employees and organization.

Four risks of allowing abrasive behavior

1. Behavior that is allowed defines the culture.

Any work culture is determined by the day-to-day behavior of how employees treat each other, including clients and vendors. It’s usually the strongest personality that influences culture the most. 

If the person in your culture with the strongest personality is respectful, courteous, and motivating, you are likely to have a positive culture. 

Conversely, if the strongest personality in your culture is abrasive, condescending, and overreactive, you are likely to have a dysfunctional culture.

Self-reflection question: Take an honest look at the behaviors you are modeling and allowing in your work culture.  Are these behaviors promoting the kind of culture you want to define your culture?

2. Loss of respect and trust from employees 

When employees voice complaints about being treated with disrespect, being spoken to in a condescending manner, and even yelled at and the executive leadership team doesn’t intervene, leaders lose credibility, respect, and trust.

Other employees see how the abrasive behavior is being tolerated and have proverbial “water cooler” conversations (or Zoom private chats). Derogatory comments are made about the executive leadership team “lack of backbone” and allowing the abrasive behavior to continue.

A 2005 study by Mercer Human Resource Consulting found that only 39% of employees believe that senior management confronts any behavioral issues before the issue becomes significant problems. Addressing abrasive employee behavior in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it also affects the level of trust from your employees.

Self-reflection question: If you were to ask your employees to give you feedback on your history of addressing bully coworkers, what would they say?

3. The employee exhibiting abrasive behavior is in charge, not leadership

Have you ever been in a store and heard a parent say to their child, “If you continue to behave this way, you won’t get any candy”? Later, you see the family walk out of the store with the child chomping on a candy bar.

The child has learned mom and dad set a boundary, but they don’t follow through. 

In the same way, when leaders fail to address and follow-through on holding employees (including top-performers) accountable for healthy behaviors, the “misbehaving” employee is in charge, not the executive leader. 

Note: In the instance that the abrasive behavior is exhibited by the executive leadership team, it is up to the board of directors to address and hold the executive leader for healthy, respectful behavior. 

Self-reflection question: Who is in charge at your organization? The executive leadership team or employees who exhibit abrasive, destructive behaviors?

4. Abrasive employees cost your organization big bucks

Glassdoor reports that 35% of employees have experienced workplace bullying in their lifetime. While this may not seem like a huge number – the effects of bullying and abrasive behavior can end up costing your company financially. 

According to SHRM, employees making $60,000/year will cost an organization between $30,000 and $45,000 when they quit due to workplace harassment.  Further, the cost to defend a harassment lawsuit is on average $250,000. If a lawsuit is successful, the average jury award is $600,000. 

Self-reflection question: How much has tolerating abrasive behavior cost your organization in terms of  employee turnover and lawsuits? 

Ready to skyrocket your organizational health? 

When executive leaders address and hold employees accountable for both behavior and performance, organizations become healthy and thrive. 

While there are many reasons why executive leaders avoid addressing abrasive behavior, taking action starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness as a leader allows you to work through barriers to intervening and clearly define what behaviors you want to define your company’s culture. 

Ready to skyrocket your organizational health?

Make the Conscious Choice to replace unhelpful behaviors with boundaries and regulation techniques, and you will elevate your leadership credibility.

Are you curious to understand how your family upbringing shapes your approach to conflict?  

Take my complimentary Workplace Family Factor® Assessment and learn how self-awareness of your family upbringing will equip you to improve how you handle conflict at work. 

Take the Workplace Family Factor® Assessment


About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.

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