Gregory P. Smith

They're here, there, everywhere. They upset managers and fellow
employees–even themselves. Who are "they?" If you haven't already
guessed, "they" are the negative employees most people encounter in the
workforce at some point. If not carefully managed, they can suck the
energy out of your business and your personal life.

What is a negative employee? They are people with poisonous attitudes
and behavior patterns who negatively influence the people around them.
Negative workers come is various shapes and sizes. Sometimes they spread
rumors, gossip about coworkers, or bad mouth their superiors to their
faces and behind their backs. Basically, they are unhappy people who
resist the positive efforts of others.

Managers often hesitate to terminate them if they are productive or have
special skills/experience. Sometimes managers do not understand the
amount of stress a negative employee creates. It may be hard to accept a
negative employee who did a good job did so at the expense of the
productivity of others. Yet, ignoring or tolerating the problems and
atmosphere they create can easily and quickly result in dissatisfaction
among other employees.

What can a supervisor/manager do when faced with this unpleasant dilemma?

First, analyze the situation. How much does the person contribute to the
overall success of the office/department/business? How much do they
contribute to creating personality conflicts with other employees? How
does that unhappiness translate into reduced productivity and enthusiasm?
How much of your time as a manager are you using to control the
situation? What are the legal ramifications (if any) of discharging the

Second, plan a course of action. If you decide to try to salvage the
employee, consider these tips:

Discuss the situation with the employee. They will probably profess
ignorance of any problems, acknowledge the situation but blame the
problems on others, or become defiant and try to play mind games with
you. The employee may also voice his or her own complaints.

Evaluate the employee's position. Even a person with a negative attitude
can have a legitimate complaint. Evaluate not only the employee's
response to your remarks but whether the employee has legitimate concerns
you need to consider. If the complaint is the basis of the person's
negative attitude/behavior, resolving it should result in a more positive
situation. Often, however, the complaint is either a smoke screen for
the employee's behavior or has resulted from the person's own negativity.

Focus on a behavior you want changed, not an attitude. Accept the
reality you may not be able to remake the person into an ideal employee,
even if you are a great manager. However, you can specify an action or
goal for the employee, and then follow through on the employee's
progress. Once you see improvement, focus on another area. Always, of
course, acknowledge the employee's efforts.

Use personality profiles and assessments. Many times, personality
conflicts are the result of misunderstandings that build up over time.
Each individual has a different personality style and frequently,
different personality styles clash with others. A team building session
can help co-workers understand and appreciate each other in a new way.
Packaged along with a personality profile or an individual behavior
assessment, it can be a powerful tool in reducing conflict and improving
communication between workers.

Consider assignments that will isolate the person from other employees
and limit contact. Most work situations require cooperation and teamwork
that make this technique unworkable, but it may be feasible in some
cases. You may even encounter an employee who prefers isolation and is
less negative when working alone. Unfortunately, negative employees
often seek out fellow workers–either to complain about their
job/boss/life in general, or to blame other employees as the source of
their unhappiness.

Set a limit and stick with it. Managers have adopted the "three strikes
and you're out" rule. Make the employee aware of the limits, tell them
when they "strike" and remind them when they have only one "strike" left.

Third, terminate the employee. If all else fails and the negative
employee ignores your warnings and refuses to cooperate, it is time to
consider termination. Once you decide this is the proper course, take
action. Otherwise, you risk losing the respect and confidence from your
employees. Before termination, discuss the situation with a human
resource professional and seek legal counsel accordingly.


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Greg Smith helps create high performance organizations that attract,
keep, and motivate their workforce. He speaks at conferences and
conducts training programs worldwide. He has helped business owners
reduce employee turnover, increase sales, and deliver better customer
service. He is also the author of eight books including 401 Proven Ways
to Retain Your Best Employees. For more information, visit or call (800) 821-2487 or (770) 860-9464.


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