Dealing with a negative employee effectively

Dealing with a negative employee effectively

In an ideal world, workplaces would be filled with positive employees, ready to tackle any challenge with a bright outlook. Unfortunately, as a business grows, its workforce generally grows with it, bringing together a wide variety of personalities.

Among those personalities will almost always be one person who tends to be noticeably negative. This is the person who continually complains about assignments, supervisors, or coworkers, among other issues. While bosses may be able to view this as a personality quirk, studies have shown that negativity is contagious, expanding from one complainer to another without anyone even realizing what’s happening.

But how can office managers help cut down on this negativity in the workplace? One way is to stop it at the source. Once an employee has been identified as negative, this step-by-step guide can help small business managers resolve the issue.

  1. Carefully monitor the behavior

    Whether you initially observe the negativity or someone calls it to your attention, it’s important to monitor it for a while. In some cases, the negativity may be merited and if that’s the case, you should take measures to change the situation. Employee satisfaction is an important part of running a successful team, so even one worker’s complaints could be worth addressing. You may not have successfully communicated the mission behind your company and the daily work you do, leading to frustration from one or more employees.

  2. Talk it out

    Once you’ve determined that the employee’s negativity is truly causing an issue, make an effort to have a one-on-one conversation where you describe the impact you’re seeing on work performance. Focus on the overall morale of the team, rather than blaming the employee directly. If the worker goes on the defensive, you likely won’t be able to bring change from a conversation. Simply ask that the employee help you energize the team by setting a positive example.

  3. Praise changes

    When you notice the employee exhibiting positive behavior, praise it. You can even issue a reward if you believe the person has executed a significant change over the course of weeks or months. Make sure you give someone time to make attitude adjustments, since a pessimist may not find it easy to completely change behaviors overnight.

  4. Document behaviors

    Despite your best efforts, sometimes you’ll find that negative behavior persists. At that point, you’ll need to document specific behaviors for storage in the employee’s personnel file. Make sure you focus on the impact the behavior had on the workplace rather than commenting on a person’s “attitude” or overall personality. If employees lodge complaints on the negative worker, ask if they’d be willing to put those complaints in writing and include those in the file. Even if they won’t commit to putting their name to it, though, you can still log the complaint in the employee’s personnel file.

  5. Issue a verbal warning

    The first step in disciplining an employee is to issue a formal verbal warning, which you document and store in the personnel file. You should have the employee sign a document stating that you had the conversation and, if possible, have your HR representative present for the conversation. This is where you cite the incidents you’ve noted in the employee’s personnel file and explain how it’s affecting the work environment. Give the employee the benefit of the doubt that this conversation will move him or her to make serious changes.

  6. Begin termination procedures

    Unfortunately, some employees will simply refuse to change their behaviors, despite multiple warnings. Even threat of termination won’t make a difference. In those cases, you’ll need to begin your termination process. Issue at least one written warning, along with a corrective action plan, with a due date to make changes. If the employee continues to contaminate the workplace and bring down morale, you’ll have no choice but to formally terminate the person, keeping all documentation in case the employee decides to contest it or file a lawsuit.

Negativity in the workplace can be frustrating, even with an employer’s best efforts to create a positive work culture. When one employee is bringing the rest of the team down, it’s important to find ways to fix the issue, since pessimism can be contagious.


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