In all the leadership programs and conferences, I have attended in my lifetime, there isn’t one in which the topic of effectively dealing with an employee’s bad attitude, crops up.
I sympathize with those leaders and managers, since I personally know how a bad attitude can cast a dark cloud over team morale, productivity, customer service, and performance on the whole. One employee with a bad attitude may not seem like a big deal; but as it conspires, negativity is contagious.
However, the key is to shift negative attitudes to positive ones, so employees see solutions where once they only saw problems. Quelling negativity at work is the only way to combat performance issues, inspire down-cast employees, and instill in them a renewed flair for work. While the occasional opportunity to vent frustrations every once in a while, is okay, but when left unchecked, cynical behaviors can wear down a workplace culture and leave a far-reaching impact on the productivity of other team members. For this, you need a strategy to deal with this constant drag on employee attitudes.
Weed Out The Negative Employees
Before you can deal with negative employees, you first need to be able to identify the ones that have a negative attitude. This is far harder than it seems. It may be that the person harboring a negative attitude is adequate at their job and doesn’t come off as a troublemaker. Or it could be that they are careful not to reveal their true nature and call attention to themselves.
You as a manager need to look out for employees who:
- Continually find things to complain about and stir a storm in a teacup when it comes to the seriousness of co-worker’s mistakes
- Talk incessantly behind people’s backs and sow mistrust
- Spawn gossip and fuel rumors that pit employees against each other
- Undermine supervisors’ authority with a never-ending flow of hushed up criticism that is virtually undetectable
Reach Out To Those Negative Employees
Once you have identified the team members that have a bad attitude, you need to prepare yourself for how best to confront them. First up, think about how their behavior is different from the rest of the staff, what impact their bad attitude is having on the business and their co-workers, and how eradicating the negativity surrounding them would affect the morale of the business and team members.
If there are any HR policies regarding employee behavior and expectations, make sure you print out to copy to reinforce where the employee is falling short of their duties and responsibilities within their role in the company. Here are a few tips to handle the confrontation like a leader:
Make them comfortable
When you conduct a one-on-one meeting with the employee, make sure you make them comfortable. Discussing such a thing could lead to embarrassment, which is why you need to let them know you understand.
Don’t make it personal
The key is not to make it personal. Remember that their negative words or attitude are not directed at you. They could simply be unhappy with their lives or not content with how they career is progressing. Similarly, do not make it sound it like you are personally attacking them, with phrases such as “I am bringing this up because it is important you address this problem to be successful in your job role”. The conversation will go smoother if you focus on results and productivity.
Ask About Problems Outside Work
Perhaps some inner turmoil or an issue with their personal lives is reflecting in their behavior at work. They must be going through a patchy divorce or mourning the loss of a loved one. Knowing what is happening in their personal lives helps you offer sympathy. It also helps the employee see that you do care for their well-being and are concerned about them. While showing an understanding for their circumstances, gently suggest that they try to keep the personal issues from affecting their workplace performance.
Convey Their Negative Impact on the Team
Instead of just dishing out blame, use explicit examples of their behavior that cause unrest at work. For instance, you can point out how when someone says “good morning” to them, they launch into a 15-minute monolog on everything that they find wrong with the workplace.
You need to highlight how it has the effect of bring down their coworker’s mood and optimism so early in the morning and make them unwilling to engage in conversation with them in the future. Suggest what they can do instead in that time. Perhaps they can use those 15 minutes of productive work time to some good use, like planning ahead for the day or checking for emails.
Focus on the positive
Don’t just fixate on telling them all that they do wrong. Boost their morale by appreciating the quality of their work or their invaluable contribution to a project. You can gently hint at how making slight improvements to their attitude can further improve their job performance and relationship with other co-workers. Even during a conversation about a negative aspect of performance, reflecting on the positive is a welcome addition.
Listening to your employee may actually reveal the root cause of their discontentment. Nevertheless, letting them vent out a little steam may be beneficial for them, since you would be giving them a chance to voice their concerns and defend their actions.
Give the employee time to think about what you are saying. As a manager, it is tempting to try to fill awkward silences within a meeting, but sometimes this can anger the other person. Instead, allow silences within the meeting, give your employee time to think and appreciate exactly what you are saying.
Focus on Creating Solutions
At the end of the day, your approach shouldn’t just revolve around what is wrong and negative about the employee’s outlook. This won’t achieve anything other than push your employee deeper into the sea of their own grievances. Your approach should center on creating options for how the employee can create positive morale for themselves and their co-workers going forward.
If however, none of the above is working, the employee seems unwilling to hold this discussion or their negativity continues to have an impact on workplace harmony, team productivity, and department members’ attitudes and morale, deal with the negativity as you would any other performance issue, and take disciplinary actions if you have to.