What is disrespectful behaviour in the Workplace?

challenging behaviours

Disrespectful behaviour in the workplace can take many forms, from subtle comments, inappropriate communication, an unhelpful attitude, name calling, raised voices and in some situations; physical fighting. Essentially, any behaviour which leaves another person feeling uncomfortable, put down, or unnecessarily unhappy is disrespectful behaviour.

Unfortunately, this type of behaviour in the workplace is not uncommon and can cause serious problems if not tackled. The negative impact can include increased stress, staff absence, lost productivity and an unpleasant working environment and poor employee retention.

Tackle it quickly and directly

Challenging behaviour in the workplace can occur for many reasons. By far the most frequent and challenging is caused by personality conflicts. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and unique ways of communicating and working with others. Organisations can set standards for acceptable behaviour and will have policies and procedures in place to handle behaviour should it become a problem. However, project managers often have to deal with day to day personality clashes and more minor examples of challenging behaviour.

Creating a good working culture, with clear guidelines on what is expected and acceptable communication is really important. The team should all be part of creating and regularly reviewing this code of conduct so that they are equally responsible for and buy into it.

Of course, it is entirely possible that an employee does not realise their behaviour is problematic, and causing offence to others. Alternatively, someone’s behaviour may be so knowingly and intentionally disrespectful that there needs to be disciplinary action. Either way, both instances need to be tackled swiftly and directly, to avoid any negative impact on the working environment.

Is it disrespect or a misunderstanding?

Perceptions of what is disrespectful can be very different. Cultural differences, age, gender and personal opinion can all play their part. Always take a moment to consider the situation. Has someone knowingly caused offence or misunderstood the culture of the environment they are in? Allowing others to save face is a valuable skill in tackling challenging behaviour. Taking a moment before action can help to assess if the behaviour was intentional or not. And then, take the incident as a learning tool to train your team about appropriate behaviour within your workplace.

Vitally, rude or uncivil behaviour must be tackled quickly and you must be prepared to take action. By encouraging your staff to be open and secure, they are more likely to  communicate with you if they are uncomfortable or unhappy. Always let employees know you will listen and take seriously their concerns. Discovering issues and problems early will assist greatly with preventing disrespectful behaviour from continuing.

Once aware of a problem, you need to assess the situation and take action, which may include disciplinary action. Whilst this is not ideal for anyone, if you fail to respond appropriately the behaviour will continue and the knock on effect on your team and business will be negative.

Create a culture of respect

Creating a culture of respect in the workplace takes time and commitment. But respect is so important for a fully functioning, happy and healthy team. So, as the leader of your team, you need to be the role model. By modelling respectful behaviour, listening and responding and supporting your team, you will build and strengthen the relationship you have with one another.


Engage in Learning provide Managing Conflict Pathway courses which will help you develop an effective and professional manner to handle conflict well and use it as a catalyst for growth and innovation. The Challenging Behaviour Effectively course will teach you how to identify difficult behaviour and develop a strategy to intervene.

Our Managing Challenging Behaviour Effectively course can be found here