A negative employee or practice can do serious damage to your company culture. Their actions can spread like poison; they’ll bring down the mood of the office, hamper productivity and stall success. If it is a leader––the potential impact multiplies.
Such people are best addressed quickly and in a way that doesn’t put your negative employee at odds with other staff members, yourself or your company. Here’s how:
Spot poor practice early
Bad behaviour can turn a workplace sour pretty quickly, so it’s best to spot the warning signs early and address them sooner, rather than later. Behaviours can vary from rude and aggressive, such as yelling, to passive aggressive actions such as arriving late. A few of the most common examples of negative employee behaviour are:
- Hostile attitude.
- Frequent lying.
- Putting others down.
- Consistently arriving late or leaving early.
- Taking unapproved extended lunch breaks.
- Taking sick days when they’re not sick.
- Talking about people behind their backs.
- Deliberate procrastination.
- Intentional inefficiency.
- Deliberately withholding information that would benefit others.
How to manage a difficult employee
Leaders must remember that when negative behaviours and actions (or inactions) are allowed to permeate in their organisation without repercussion or punishment, it indicates that those behaviours and actions are acceptable. As Practice Leader and Business Strategist, Dan Gawn, says: “Leaders must keep in mind that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Leaders will get what they tolerate”.
Dealing with a negative staff member can be difficult. That’s why it’s a good idea to develop a process or guidelines to help managers and negative staff members work through the issue(s) together. Here are a few good things to include:
Listen. Try to find out why the employee is acting out. They could have very valid reasons for doing so. Common causes include, stress, poor communication, organisational change (i.e. downsizing). Don’t lay blame or indicate you are siding with them. Just listen. Make them feel heard.
Provide clear feedback. Giving the right kind of feedback can be difficult, and if the situation is tense then it becomes doubly so. While it is tempting to use the feedback sandwich (placing a piece of negative feedback between two positives), research shows that it doesn’t work. It only serves to bury the crucial negative feedback you need to give.
When giving negative feedback, remember to keep it focused on the behaviour, not the person, otherwise it could be seen as a personal attack. It’s the difference between “Mary, you’re becoming a problem,” and “Mary, your yelling is becoming a problem.” Offering solutions to help rectify the situation is ideal. Here’s an example:
“I noticed that you were yelling at James earlier. Can you help me understand what happened? I can see you’re under a lot of pressure, would it be easier for you to focus if you worked from home tomorrow?”
Set consequences. Make sure you are clear that the employee’s behaviour is not acceptable—and don’t seesaw between being OK one day, and not OK the next. Be consistent and be specific on what the consequences will be. Here’s what that might sound like:
“Show me that you can change/control your temper/be on time over the next two weeks. Otherwise I’ll have to give you a formal warning.”
Document everything. This should go without saying, but we’ll state it anyway. Record everything. It not only helps you keep track of what’s gone on before, but also helps you to follow up with your employee to see how they’re doing.
If an employee does not change their behaviour and continues to affect your company’s culture, having everything documented also means you can begin the legal process of letting them go if you’ve exhausted all other options. This allows owners and managers to ensure that a positive culture is maintained from the admins all the way up to executives.
Positivity wins the day
One of the most effective ways to mitigate the damage of a negative employee in your workplace is to fight it with positivity. Encouragement is always more effective than discouragement. Research even shows that positivity can build trust and boost performance. It also helps to keep up employee spirits, leading to a happier workplace, which in turn helps your business attract and retain the best staff.
It can be difficult to manage a disgruntled employee, but with the right approach you can keep your company culture safe. Misery loves company, but not your company.
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