The Payroll Blog

attitude adjustment - two buttons green thumbs up red thumbs down

Attitude Adjustments: Managing Negative Employees

Posted On

Is there a virus running through your organization — one that threatens the health of your company?

We aren't talking about a medical problem. We are referencing a negative employee problem.

Such an employee might otherwise be a high performer, but a negative attitude causes great stealth harm outside the scope of his or her direct job duties.

These employees:

  • Constantly complain about their supervisors behind their back.
  • Constantly criticize co-workers in front of other co-workers.
  • Constantly spread rumors and gossip instead of engaging in productive office banter.
  • Would rather cause a company problem to get worse than try to lend a hand to fix it.

Even though a negative employee is good at keeping their behavior just under the radar, over time their identity is no secret. Managers, often times, are slow to deal with the situation because it is awkward and unpleasant.

But a good manager must address the situation or risk allowing the in-house morale buster to wreak more havoc. The question becomes: What is the right approach?

Perhaps the best strategy, according to the human resource online website, is to be direct and specific.

"It's a mistake to use general terms in a discussion about a specific behavior problem. For example, a manager says 'I don't like your attitude. I want you to change it.' That's pretty safe, but it could mean anything.

Instead, the manager should say 'It's not helpful the way you talk about our customers behind their backs. It poisons the attitude of the others in customer service. From now on, if you can't say something supportive of a customer, please don't say anything at all.'"

Managers should try to gather specific examples of negative things the employee has said in the past, and use those in the discussion for clarity.

Smart companies look to head off such manager-problem employee conversations in the first place by firmly stating policies that emphasize that employees are expected to engage only in workplace behavior that enhances teamwork, performance and productivity.

Such policies in good companies are emphasized at hiring and reinforced periodically to all employees.

If a negative employee's conduct does not improve after the supervisor talk, then it is time to take the strategy to the next level and consider punitive measures such as negative job/pay reviews, suspension, transfer or firing.

Not all employees have a bright, sunny attitude and that's OK. But smart companies don't tolerate persistent negative attitudes that corrode the camaraderie of their work force.