HR provides guidance to supervisors and is often tasked with solving the “problem” of negative employees.
Some employees have a negative take on every issue. This begs the question – “If you don’t like the company; don’t like your boss; and you don’t like your co-workers why stay in the job?” Yes, it might be difficult to find another position, especially for a negative person but is that a reason to stay and torture everyone around you. We work long hours. Just let us do our work!
Could the negative employee be happy in the right workplace? Hopefully but perpetual negativity is often part of a long-standing pattern that’s hard to reverse.
Negative views can influence others when left unchallenged. Eventually, even motivated workers can believe the view that the supervisor is the problem or the company doesn’t care. Just how negative things may get depends upon the supervisor’s skill handling negative folks. Can the supervisor act with confidence and respect when the disgruntled employee challenges them directly in the staff meeting? Does the supervisor have the skill to set boundaries for negative remarks an employee may use to discourage or control coworkers?
Supervisors must try to engage all the employees in their group. Here are some strategies that might work for you.
Strategies to minimize the damage of persuasive, negative employees
1. Know your employee group: Employees in a given department can be divided into three basic groups – employees who want the supervisor to silence the negative employee, employees who side with the negative employee and undecided folks who just want to do their work. Strategy one is to cultivate and enhance the positive view of those employees who want to work toward company goals. This group can help to confront and refute the negative views as they arise. Engaging them can help to prevent an “us/them” dynamic between the leader and the employee group.
2. Use your verbal skills: Developing verbal skills to refute negative comments on the spot, is Strategy Two. When an employee hijacks staff meetings and turns the discussion to fatalism and negativity, stop the conversation and ask if everyone feels the same way. Then encourage those with a different view to speak up. Speak directly and clearly to the negativism: “It seems like you often take a negative perspective in these discussions. This makes it difficult for the team to stay motivated at times. I am thinking it creates unnecessary pressure on your peers.” Later, take the negative employee aside and let them know that their comments are negatively effecting the group’s ability to be successful. If your company offers incentive awards, tie the negative talk to making it difficult to achieve the incentive awards and vice-versa. More drastic steps to take if these strategies don’t work are to exclude the employee from occasional staff meetings in which the planned activity is brain storming and creative problem solving.
3. Address complaint content: Take action to resolve any negative talk that is based in reality is Strategy Three. If a complaint is – procedures are difficult, address that. If the complaint is – customers are too difficult, address strategies to deal with difficult customers. Finally, if complaints are – about other employees or departments, address these head on. When there are problems in other departments work on those with other supervisors. But, if you discover that complaints are misleading or unfounded, close the loop with your group and confidently let them know the matter is put to rest. “We’re moving on.”
4. Termination: If and when the negative employee’s pessimism and fatalistic view is not resolved by interventions, Strategy Four is to consider counseling the employee out of the company. Even if the employee is technically competent the fact that they interfere with the positive performance and full engagement of the team is reason enough to consider termination. The success of this strategy depends upon getting good advice and support from your attorney or consultant. They can help you assemble the facts that support a sound, respectful termination process.
Younger workers represent an increasing portion of today’s workforce. They tend to have high expectations for being treated well. I support speaking up when their patience for negative coworkers wears thin. Savvy business managers understand the long term damage disruptive comments can yield, and take action. If you can shift a negative style, great. But, gossip and negativity detract from the company’s efficient movement toward both business and people goals and create an atmosphere of disrespect. Negativity interferes with employee engagement, motivation and loyalty – factors associated with company profitability. It certainly doesn’t promote personal accountability or healthy communication. Finally, happy and engaged employees shouldn’t have to put up with it.
When delivering performance consequences with disgruntled employees you might layout their choices like this: “We welcome you to improve/refrain from these behaviors, stay, and help us succeed. Or, you can agree to disagree and move to another company. What you can’t do, is stay and hassle your fellow employees.”
Sometimes company leaders need support to take a firm stand with these employees. I have explained supervisory burn-out as a natural outcome allowing a staff member to stay and gripe. When a supervisor becomes worn down by negative employees it is appropriate to let the negative employee understand that this is one more way in which they interfere with the achievement of team goals. Supervisory burnout has additional negative results. Make sure supervisors get the support they need to maintain attention and motivation to intervene with negative employees. They may need help intervening. It is wonderful to see when a supervisor becomes empowered to make a shift and ably take the reins of a collective, motivated team. It can be rewarding for the company and great for the positive employees. After stubbornly negative employees are gone, staff will often approach you with thanks.
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