Despite the best efforts of the hiring manager, it is inevitable that businesses will wind up with one or more employees that just seem to be negative all of the time. Negative affect is the psychological term for an individual that views the world as a glass half empty, with a crack in the side and slow leak. These individuals often see themselves as the victim in a given situation, spending much of their time complaining about how hard they work, how much pressure is on them, and how nobody understands how hard things are for them.
It is unrealistic to hope for an office filled with optimistic, happy-go-lucky individuals, so effectively leaders should be prepared with a tool bag of strategies to handle these negative employees. As tempting as it may be, negative behaviors should not be written off as just a part of who the person is, as they can quickly lead to a loss of productivity and work engagement in the employees interacting with them. By actively working with both the negative employees and their colleagues, managers can proactively work to prevent potential difficulties and model positive professional behaviors.
One of the most effective strategies for curbing negative behaviors is to not accept excuses. Individuals with negative affect will often wallow in excuses, as if nothing is ever their fault. Their negative attitude is obviously the result of someone put them under extreme pressure, or events in their personal lives that they have no control over. They will cling to the notion that their attitude is in fact forced on them, and that they should have no accountability for the effect their attitude has on others.
As uncomfortable as it can be for managers to open up this line of discussion, it is important that negative employees are reminded that they are in fact in control of their own emotional responses and the ways in which they express them. An effective leader must walk the fine line between showing sympathy and support for the employee, without making it seem as if their behavior is acceptable. The negative employee should be gently reminded that it is their responsibility to maintain professional behavior regardless of how they are feeling.
An excellent way to reinforce the need for positive attitudes is to sit down with the negative employee and have them actively work to develop a plan of action to change their behavior. It is important that they are given concrete goals to work toward, such as approaching management with complaints instead of their colleagues or making an effort to follow up every negative statement with a positive one. Most importantly, for the mental health of the colleagues the individual works with, they should be given a timeline during which they are expected to make noticeable progress, with periodic meetings with management to assess.
Some individuals will remain so ingrained in their negative affect that they will see attempts to improve their behavior as a direct personal attack and will make no effort to improve their attitude. Although it is unfortunate, for the sake of the mental health, productivity, and engagement of the remainder of the workforce, these employees may need to be let go.
Head of Training and Development
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Mark Williams is a learning and development professional, using business psychology and multiple intelligences to create fascinating and quickly-identifiable learning initiatives in the real-world business setting. Mark’s role at MTD is to ensure that our training is leading edge, and works closely with our trainers to develop the best learning experiences for all people on learning programmes. Mark designs and delivers training programmes for businesses both small and large and strives to ensure that MTD’s clients are receiving the very best training, support and services that will really make a difference to their business.