How to deal with a negative employee

Most employees don’t start out in a negative way, especially as most people want to stick to the impression that they left after their last interview. In this case, you have to be aware that personal circumstances may have changed for the employee which might be causing them to act a certain way.

In other cases, employees can sometimes be disheartened by certain management styles or workplace cultures that they didn’t expect or that have become tiresome for them. This may be affecting their behaviour and attitude toward you, their team and potentially clients. Even if negativity is warranted (which it isn’t always) the consequences of a negative outlook can be detrimental.

Don’t take it personally

Firsts things first, don’t take it personally. If they shoot down all your ideas, avoid listening to you, don’t like the way you manage or find ways of getting out of work, it doesn’t always have to do with you. So, it’s important to go into a discussion with genuine concern and wonder about an employees attitude. Don’t ever start with something like ‘why are you disrespecting me and the team?’. This means you are focusing on yourself straight away, you should first ask what’s going on with them and understand all the facts before making them aware how this might be affecting others around them.

Yes, there are such things as bad managers, and it can seem personal if they say that you are the issue. But many times, this means that an individual needs a different management style to succeed, or simply, that two personalities clash. This is something that can be worked through when focusing on resolutions.

Ask them about what’s going on

As mentioned above, you must communicate to find out the source of a negative employees attitude. We recommend setting a proper meeting time in private so that no one can over hear the conversation. You can start the chat with something like ‘Hey Ned, I’ve noticed you’ve been quite brash lately, is everything okay?’ or ‘Hey Bec, some people on the team are feeling a little hesitant to approach you because of some snappy responses they’ve received. Is everything alright?  And how can I help?’ You can go on to ask more specific questions as sometimes people won’t open up straight away. Is it something in their personal life that they can’t necessarily leave at home? Is it something in the workplace that’s bothering them? Do they feel too overloaded with work? Are they not challenged enough? Have they had one or more bad encounters with other staff members? The list goes on. In order to resolve the way a person feels; the source of their troubles needs to come to light.

Focus on specific feedback and resolutions

After finding out what’s going on, thank your employee for sharing with you. Sometimes, employees will become apologetic, not even realising they’ve behaved that way. Sometimes, they might have gotten defensive, denying that they have a negative attitude. In the latter case, it’s important they understand the impact they are having. You need to demonstrate to them what effect they have on the people around them with specific examples. Avoid using phrases like ‘you always do this’ or ‘everyone says you do this’. Make sure you use examples of their actions such as being snappy or a having a pattern of badmouthing the company to other team members. Then explain how their behaviour can affect morale, productivity and the general culture of the workplace.

Once you are both on the same page, it’s important to brainstorm some solutions together. For example, if one of their concerns is that they feel they work unreasonable hours, as a manager you could offer them some flexibility. 

Reassure the employee when they’re doing well

After working through some solutions and getting back to work, make sure to offer positive feedback and reassurance when the employee is performing well or conducting good teamwork. It’s also important to check in with them, keep them updated with any ongoing solutions, and make sure they know you are there to listen if they need you.

Lead by example

If you want to create a positive workplace, make sure you’re a positive leader. Avoid talking negatively even when a meeting goes bad or you’re having difficulties with your peers. If you have to discuss something that went wrong, try to take emotion out of it and discuss it logically whilst introducing ways to improve or fix the hiccup.

Realise when a bad attitude can’t be changed

Unfortunately, all the above steps won’t always work. There are some people whose problems can’t be fixed simply because they prefer to remain complacent in their own pessimism. You can’t change someone’s attitude, but you can do your best to change the situations that impact their mood and happiness in the workplace. If you’ve made all possible changes and tried to work through any issues but the person is still negatively influencing the workplace… it might be time to say goodbye or otherwise escalate the issue to HR so that the individual can take their actions more seriously.