Back to Back Issues Page
iManage, Issue #013 -- 3 Steps to Dealing with Negativity in the Workplace
August 05, 2010

3 Steps to Dealing with Negativity in the Workplace

I once witnessed a team of young, predominantly female employees on an assembly line. They were a happy bunch. Working conditions, pay and prospects were good and they had a capable, intuitive manager. They took pride in their work, enjoyed the "craic" (as they say in Ireland!) and yields were high.

That was until Nora was hired. Nora had worked in a number of places and was more "wordly wise" than the group. She tended to see things from a negative perspective and was quick to educate the team in the differences between "them" and "us". Her work output was also below standard.

In a short period of time, morale was noticeably lower. Friendly smiles were replaced with hushed tones and unhappy faces. And as the mood dropped, so too did yields.

Nora was spoken to on a number of occasions to no avail. She was let go in a short space of time. The team were visibly upset at first, but they recovered and eventually morale (and yields) went back up again.

So is dismissal the answer if you have an employee with a negative mindset, who is undermining team performance?

Possibly, but as with any management decision, you need to make sure it is the right one. Have you exhausted all other avenues? Here are 3 steps to help you consider your options.

Step 1: Does Nora have a point?

One of the biggest challenges we face as managers is to really listen to what others have to say. Too often, managers believe their viewpoint is right, which usually makes other people wrong. Could Nora have a genuine issue that needs to be dealt with? Is the situation (and Nora) being judged too quickly? Ask good, probing questions to get the facts (from a number of sources).

Step 2: How would Nora like it to be?

We can all get stuck in a negative spiral. We see problems where others might see opportunities. And sometimes all we need is to get it "off our chest" so that we feel better and can move on. As a manager, being a good listener might be the right approach in this situation.

Questions such as "How would you like it to be?" asked at the right time could help Nora to visualise a more positive place. Your job is then to help her explore what she needs to do to get there.

Step 3: Have you been fair to Nora?

I have seen two common approaches by managers to dealing with employees who are having a destructive effect on the team's morale.

Shotgun Sam shoots from the hip. He doesn't waste time hanging around. At the first sign of trouble Nora is out the door, no questions asked. This might work; and some situations do warrant instant dismissal. The downside is that if the situation is not clearcut, it can create an atmosphere of fear and a lack of openness in the workplace. This can negatively impact honest, healthy communication - which is not good for business.

Avoidance Annie, on the other hand, ignores the problem and hopes it will go away. Again this might work. But the danger is that employees will see her as a weak manager and she will lose their respect. And if that happens, she will lose a whole lot more in terms of productivity, morale and so on.

So what is an alternative approach? If you follow a a set procedure, such as a verbal warning, a written warning and a final warning, you can make it very clear to Nora what you expect from her. Your employees will see that you are not acting on impulse, yet are still dealing with the situation.

Faced with a negative Nora, think carefully about your options and the way ahead. Your employees and your business need you to make the right decision.

If you want to learn more about managing employee performance, download our Motivation and Performance Appraisal Audio Guide to give you new perspectives. Or if you have a specific question you would like answered, Click here.

Best wishes

Ann Halloran

From cool and rainy Ireland. Off to Spain tomorrow. It is 35 - 40 degrees there and I can't wait. Hope you are enjoying your summer..

Practical management skills advice for business owners and managers. Get best practice tips on a wide range of topics such as time management, leadership, communication skills, managing change and more.

Content based on 30 years management/consultancy experience gained in a wide range of business sectors.

Contact Us with your feedback!

Back to Back Issues Page