Dealing with negativity in the workplace

January 07, 2011

One unhappy person in a work environment can create a low performing, highly stressed negative team environment. It does not work in the reverse – one happy person in the workplace does not create a highly productive positive environment.

We hear of many complaints from business owners, business leaders and managers of the amount of destruction that one or two unhappy individuals can cause in an organization. Typically these individuals have been able to continue with the negative behaviour over a long period of time. What happens often, is that businesses lose good employees who just do not choose to work in a negative environment.

An unhappy employee can also cost a business a lot of money through loss of customers, loss of valuable employees and time spent on dealing with the human resources side of employee performance.

Research indicates that 60-70 percent of lost customers leave because of problems with types of customer service turnoffs – value statements not meeting expectations, systems problems (delivery, untrained staff, policies, record keeping, etc) and people problems (employees).

People turnoffs arise when employees fail to communicate well with customers with or without words. Some examples are:

  • failure to greet or even smile at a customer
  • inaccurate information given or lack of knowledge conveyed (“it’s not my job”)
  • talking to another employee or allowing telephone interruptions while ignoring a customer
  • rude or uncaring attitude
  • high-pressure sales tactics
  • inappropriate, dirty, or sloppy appearance (employee or the work location)
  • any communicated message that causes the customer to feel uncomfortable

How do you deal with a negative employee? It is so important to understand your company culture and what is important to keep your customers and your employees happy.

So, with that in mind, let’s start at the beginning – at the interview stage. Ask the right questions from direct supervisors of potential candidates. Go back at least 3 jobs that this person has held from their most current job back. Great questions to ask always eliminate a “yes” or “no” response. You want to ask questions that lead with “who, what, where, when, why and how”. For example, ask questions that will give you some clues to the person’s attitude - “How would you say this person gets along with her/his peers, managers, customers and subordinates?” You want to check for comments made about the candidate such as “she has her ups and downs, sometimes has trouble dealing with problem customers – it can get her down.” Ask the candidate to tell you about the most challenging time she has had working in a team environment – get her to tell a real life example story. Really listen to what she is saying. When people tell stories they tend to relax and give more information than they mean to expose to you.

Closely monitor the new employee’s attitude and performance during the probation period at the beginning of employment. This is the opportunity to let someone go that does not fit within the culture of your organization or does not have the right attitude. Attitude is tough one to fix! We can train and teach new skill sets but it is really challenging to improve a bad attitude.

Sometimes, as a new leader or new business owner, you can inherit a negative person(s). You will want to deal with these people very quickly to show how serious you are on creating a very positive environment for your customers and employees. Personally meet with the individual(s) and ask questions that solicits more than a “yes” or “no” response. Ask for their input on how they would improve the situation. Many times a negative person does not have or offer solutions. They look to you to provide that for them. Explain to them the importance of a positive workplace and the impact of negativity on fellow team members.

Sometimes, customer service training, product knowledge training, team building exercises can improve negativity in the workplace.

If it appears it is an attitude that you may not be able to change or improve, begin to document everything – all discussions, all requested solutions or actions taken. Keep detail records including dates, times and outcomes. Sometimes you will see a slight improvement over a short period of time. If the same behaviour shows again, bring the person into the office and explain that you saw some improvement but now the behaviour has reappeared causing concerns with fellow employees and customers (if that is the case). Give examples on what negative behaviour does to the work environment or to customers. At this point, explain that you will need to see continued improvement for a period of time with specific end date and if you do not see improvement by that date, you may have to take steps to terminate the employment.

Ensure that you follow all the Employment Standards rules on terminating an employee should you have to take that step. It is unfortunate that you may have to terminate a person with a negative attitude. More importantly, It is your job to ensure that you have a team in place that can give your customers the best service giving you the competitive edge in the marketplace and keeping your customers coming back for more!

 How to become a miserable person                                                                 How to become a happier person


·         stop growing and stop changing                                                             depend on no one for your happiness

·         when you feel miserable blame others                                                    act as if you are happy

·         don’t change anything, just complain                                                      believe you are here to be happy

·         see yourself as a hopeless victim                                                          celebrate whatever there is

·         others are on the planet to make you happy                                             treat everyone as if you care

·         never forget to pick a quarrel                                                               in everything, give thanks

·         be grateful for nothing                                                                        dispel negative thoughts

·         carry a sour face                                                                               ☺ dwell on happy thoughts and memories

·         look stressed, they will think you are important                                         ☺ bring a sense of wonder to your life

·         if you happen to feel happy, snap out of it                                                do the ordinary thing with a touch of class

·         dwell on what you don’t want                                                                ☺ sing

·         accentuate every pain                                                                        ☺ accentuate the positive

·         let the world know how much you are suffering                                        ☺ enjoy nature

·         don’t change anything                                                                        ☺ be happy with people

·         wait on someone to come along and turn you into a bundle of joy                 ☺ birds of a feather flock together

·         if people are happy around you, tell them to get real                                  ☺ boost the self-esteem of others

·         reach out and help no one                                                                   ☺ develop your inner self

·         you need your strength                                                                       ☺ exercise daily, eat a low fat, high fiber diet

·         when you feel the urge to give, focus on your own needs                            ☺ smile the clouds away

·         when you feel the urge to exercise, go to bed                                           ☺ laugh constantly

·         when all else fails, eat                                                                         ☺ read books about happiness

from Dr. Ken Nedd Seminars,