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Dealing with Unprofessional Behavior at Work

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Examples of unprofessional behavior in the workplace

Sharing personal opinionsDominating meetingsExaggeration of work experienceIntimidation and bullyingSexual harassmentChronic latenessRefusal to perform tasksAggressiveness

Examples of unprofessional behavior in the workplace

Understanding how to deal with unprofessional behavior

Handling unprofessional behavior in the office may take some effort. It's necessary, however, if you want to avoid a chaotic work environment. Unprofessional behavior can set a bad precedent in the workplace, cause conflicts, and may affect performance. The earlier you address unacceptable employee behavior, the better for the organization. We will discuss several examples of unprofessional workplace behavior and provide strategies to remedy them.

Examples of unprofessional behavior in the workplace:

Sharing personal opinions

Employees are humans, not machines. They have emotions, ideas; and they have their own opinions on issues. However, while workplaces shouldn’t restrict speech, professionalism dictates that employees should avoid bringing their personal opinions to the workplace. For starters, an employee’s opinion may be considered offensive by another. Repeated occurrences may cause conflict among co-workers and affect collaboration and cooperation. Having an opinion on whether a specific athlete is the best basketball player in history is not bad. However, having opinions on controversial topics such as politics, religion, and culture is where the problem starts. How to deal with employees who share potentially divisive opinions at work:

  • Ensure there are rules around speech in the workplace. It’s easy to break a rule you didn’t know existed. Hence, you should make rules guiding speech clear to employees.
  • Encourage employees to report offensive opinions. If someone finds an opinion offensive, it should have never been shared in the first place. Ask employees to report individuals who barrage others with offensive or controversial opinions.
  • Sanction speech violations. Punish employees who violate rules on speech. The office should be a place for positive, civil discussions; anyone trying to ruin that should face the consequences. This could be a fine, probation order, or even termination.

Dominating meetings

A meet session is supposed to gather several ideas and perspectives. Trying to dominate meetings, and stop others from contributing, is hardly professional behavior. Sometimes, an employee might not be doing it on purpose; they may have too many ideas and want to share them. But even if this problem stems from harmless enthusiasm, it’s still a problem. When a particular employee prevents others from making proper contributions in a meeting, either by interrupting them or talking for long periods, resentment can grow. And this can cause more problems than you expect. How to deal with it: Give everyone a chance to contribute at meet sessions. If an employee is trying to monopolize the meeting, firmly caution them to wait until their turn and allow others to speak.

Exaggeration of work experience

Some job applicants may overstate their experience to bolster their chances of landing a job. This tactic is called “faking it till you make it,” and it is popular. It assumes that even an unqualified employee can gain the necessary skills on the job and adapt to the organizational structure. Sometimes, the employee is a fast learner, which helps them learn faster and get used to the job quickly. However, not everyone who exaggerates work experience and skills on a resume is a “fast learner.” This causes problems when a new employee flops horribly after promising A+ performance. Such behavior is unprofessional and costly. The organization has to either hire a new employee or spend large amounts on on-the-job training. Both scenarios are bad for the company’s bottom line. How to deal with it:

  • Check references. Call up the references on an employee’s resume to ask questions about their skill and experience.
  • Call former bosses or colleagues. The best way to fish out job applicants with falsified work experiences is to confirm the information from their past employers.
  • Check their information online. You’ll likely find a means of contacting either a manager or an employee from an applicant’s previous place of employment. Then you can cross-check their statements with the applicant’s statements.
  • Warn candidates of the consequences of falsifying details on their application. A simple warning stating that employees who provide false information on their application will reduce charlatans your company has to deal with.

Intimidation and bullying

Bullies aren’t restricted to elementary school playgrounds; they exist in corporate environments as well. In fact, workplace bullying is one of the biggest problems facing employees now. Here are some forms of bullying and intimidation at work:

  • Continuous mistreatment
  • Public humiliation
  • Unfair criticism
  • Social exclusion
  • Verbal/physical abuse

Frequent targets of bullying include those who are high performers and the gentler types. Bullying can force employees to leave your company, which increases worker turnover. How to deal with it:

  • Provide a complaint and redress mechanism. Your office should have a system for taking complaints related to bullying and intimidation and provide speedy redress. This will make it easier to spot bullies in the workplace and sanction them.
  • Investigate complaints from employees. Managers, supervisors, and other top-level workers should take bullying seriously and investigate complaints from workers. If an employee feels confident that the company will handle it, they are likely to report instead of leaving the company.
  • Show zero tolerance for bullying. The organization should make it clear that it will not tolerate bullying and intimidation. It should also have a clear-cut policy on bullying in the employee handbook, which employees can read.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment remains one of the most unprofessional and costliest behaviors in the workplace. The behavior can harm your company’s reputation, breed discontent, and cause high employee turnover. Here are some behaviors that may constitute sexual harassment:

  • Unsolicited flirting or requests for romantic dates
  • Sending messages, emails, or messages that have sexual undertones
  • Touching an employee inappropriately; grabbing their waist, putting arms around their shoulders, patting their back, touching sexual organs, etc.
  • Making lewd comments on clothing
  • Making sexually suggestive jokes

How to deal with it:

  • Define “sexual harassment” so everyone knows what behavior constitutes harassment.
  • Conduct trainings for employees and managers on sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
  • Establish an effective reporting mechanism to handle complaints.
  • Investigate sexual harassment claims and deal with them immediately.
  • Create a detailed company policy on sexual harassment and abuse.
  • Maintain a zero-tolerance stance towards sexual harassment.

Chronic lateness

An employee may be late to work or meetings due to circumstances out of their control. Family issues, delayed trains, and bad traffic are issues that can cause lateness. However, there’s a problem when the employee arrives late for work repeatedly. Punctuality is the soul of business; chronic lateness can cost businesses in time and money wasted. How to deal with it:

  • Have a policy on lateness in place.
  • Develop a system to track employee hours (swipe card, attendance sheet, time clock).
  • Communicate the consequences of arriving late at work to employees.
  • Ask supervisors to document cases of lateness.
  • Issue verbal warnings to chronically late workers.
  • Counsel employee(s) in question on how to solve the problem of lateness.
  • Conduct trainings on the importance of workplace punctuality.
  • Use sanctions to promote better behavior.

Refusal to perform tasks

There are certain grounds on which an employee can refuse to execute a task assigned by the manager. For example, employees can decline work if they feel it’s unsafe or against workplace ethics. However, an employee refusing a task for no identifiable reason is another thing entirely. Such conduct is called insubordination, and it can lead to several problems in the workplace. Insubordination affects workplace interactions and slows down productivity. You may need to spend so much energy and time to get an employee to do a job that should be their responsibility. How to handle it:

  • Be clear about office hierarchy and the flow of authority in the workplace.
  • Managers/supervisors should document cases of employee misbehavior.
  • Issue warnings to suspect employees.
  • Adopt other punitive measures to correct behavior, including suspension and dismissal.


There are some employees who find new things to be angry about every day. While the anger may be justified sometimes, you should not encourage constant aggressiveness. The thing about aggressiveness is its potential to spread throughout the team. One person yells, and you think the other will play lamb and stay silent but yells back. Aggressiveness is an unprofessional behavior that can create a toxic work environment. Before you know it, employees will start leaving critical reviews on recruitment sites because you didn’t control workplace aggression. How to deal with it:

  • Document aggressive behavior and bring it up with the employee at fault.
  • Understand that changing an aggressive person is difficult.
  • Attempt to counsel the employee and show them why aggressive behavior is problematic
  • Foster open communication.
  • Encourage positivity in the workplace.
  • If aggressive behavior borders on outright hostility, consider suspension and dismissal.

Unprofessional behavior in the workplace can affect collaboration and reduce employee productivity and efficiency. Use this guide to learn about the various types of unacceptable conduct at work and strategies for correcting them.

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