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How to Deal with a Negative Employee in the Workplace

Negative employees or general negativity in the workplace can have a substantially adverse effect on the business, especially when the negativity spreads throughout the workforce. The negativity can lead to a widespread feeling of discontent which can damage morale, job satisfaction and disrupt staff. All of this can lead to reduced productivity, efficiency and ultimately profitability as employees lose energy and focus on their performance and work.

Therefore, it is vital to address negativity at the earliest possible stage and have a procedure in place to ensure the protection of the business and workforce as a whole. If the behaviour is not confronted by the employee’s superior and is instead dismissed as trivial, it will likely escalate to a level that will be considerably more difficult to manage.

Negative Employee Behaviour

An employee’s negativity can be established through their actions and inactions and quite often involves engaging in rude and dismissive behaviour such as:

  • Constantly questioning any direction received
  • Constant criticism, of or the dismissal of the work of others
  • Ignoring management or fellow employees
  • Disregarding an assignment or disputing its purpose or due date
  • Deliberately disrupting the flow of meetings, training sessions etc.

Negativity can also culminate in blatant insubordination being displayed towards an employee’s superior such as refusing to carry out an assignment or engaging in disparaging remarks to the person directly or about them to other individuals.

The Primary Reasons for Negative Behaviour

It is important to understand the underlying reasons behind an employee’s negativity in order to resolve it and defuse it constructively.  Some of the main causes of negativity in the workplace are:

  • An excessive workload
  • Concern’s about Management’s ability to successfully lead the Company
  • Anxiety about the future, particularly in relation to income and retirement security
  • Lack of challenge in their work
  • Insufficient recognition for the level of contribution and effort the employee provides or indeed that their rate of pay is not commensurate to the work they put in.

Eliminating or attempting to address some of the above concerns should go a long way to ensuring a positive and efficient work environment.

Addressing Workplace Negativity

You can keep an eye on negativity in the workplace in general by regularly communicating with all employees to enable you to detect any unrest and address these from the outset. Such indications can emerge through employee complaints and exit interviews with employees leaving the business. Employee appraisals should be regularly carried out, giving an indication of the performance goals and behavioural standards that are expected of employees. You should also ensure that if supervisors/managers detect discontent amongst employees that they are suitably trained to deal with this and that they are aware of the procedure to address behavioural/negativity issues with employees in a constructive manner.

Where the negativity is emanating from a particular employee, you should have a chat with the employee to discuss the situation – this can often be effectively resolved with an informal conversation. A significant contributing factor to negativity can often be a lack of communication. Where an employee feels that their opinion is not valued or acknowledged, this can compound any resentment and hostility but this informal communication can often dispel such feelings.

It is important at this stage to ascertain the source of the employee’s negativity as opposed to proceeding straight to formal disciplinary action. Ideally, you should avoid adopting a negative standpoint and should ensure that you remain objective yet supportive. You should be interactive with the employee in response to any issues they raise and should avoid any negative or accusatory responses as this will only exacerbate any festering hostility an employee is harbouring. You may reference the fact that that the employee’s behaviour is impacting negatively on their fellow colleagues but you should focus on proposing a solution rather than criticising.

You should also avoid making any predetermination that the employee’s negativity is unfounded and without credence; the employee may raise valid concerns and it is your obligation to take these into consideration, investigate them and attempt to resolve the issue(s) if they are substantiated. Ensure you take notes of the meeting so you can look into any points the employee raises subsequent to the meeting.

Further to this meeting, you need to determine the next step. If the employee has raised valid issues, you should attempt to resolve these. If you find that his claims are substantiated you should make it clear that such behaviour is adversely affecting the business and will not be tolerated and any further instances may result in formal disciplinary action being taken. In this eventuality, you would address this as you would any other performance issue.

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