Public or Private?

When and where to correct bad employee behavior


Recently, someone at my place of work sent an email to the entire organization. The email was well-intentioned, but it wasn’t work related. In fact, the subject matter could technically be considered an endorsement of a political candidate by the sender. A couple of other people responded to the email, some in favor of what the original person wrote, other against, and in each case replying to the entire organization. Over two hundred employees were, in a sense, spammed.

It was clear that this type of email exchange was a violation of our organization’s communication policy, which prohibits non-work related political email like this. A very senior, high-level executive within the company recognized this, and he sent another email out to the entire organization that explained the policy. Unfortunately, in that same email, the executive publicly singled out the original email sender and harshly chastised them. In a sense, the executive made an example of the original email sender in front of the entire company. 

“Vince Lombardi once said a coach should criticize in private and praise in public. I think this is even more true in the business world. Nothing builds resentment and hurts individual and team morale more than a leader calling out an employee in front of everyone else. Keep these admonishment moments where they belong: behind closed doors. And just as importantly, make sure when you praise someone for a good job that you do it loudly and in front of other team members.” – Senior Project Manager, Northrop Grumman

There was no need for our executive to single out the original email sender in public like this. A much more effective—and professional—approach would have been to take the employee aside and let him or her know that this type of behavior was unacceptable and to please cease doing it.

In contrast, calling out the employee in front of everyone else can and will embarrass and/or anger that person. It also lets the rest of the team know that management does not understand the concepts of propriety and tact. Said simply, team morale will be negatively affected–not to mention the effect it will have on your own reputation as a professional manager.

Remember: Criticize in private; praise in public.