Nearly every manager I have known or worked with throughout the years has had to deal with an employee who is consistently negative, complains excessively, and/or rarely looks at the silver lining in a bad situation. I have also consistently found that managers tend to shy away from potential workplace conflict situations and are uncomfortable with confrontation. Unfortunately, this is an aspect of management that is usually unavoidable.
How you deal with and manage negative employees is extremely important, not only to that specific individual, but also to the culture and morale of your team. When it gets to the point where it’s affecting productivity, performance and relationships within the department or company, it is time for the manager to step up and take action by following the steps outlined below.
- Address the issue right away. Do not dismiss negative behavior or think it will go away on its own because you do not deal with it. Your failure to do something affects others on your team and could even cause turnover within your department. Take action as soon as possible; if left untouched, the problem will more than likely continue and possibly escalate.
- Arrange a private meeting. Whether you have an open environment like a call center or one in which everyone has their own office, make sure your meeting with the employee is private and away from his area. It is important to show this is serious, and your intent should not be to publicly embarrass the employee. A private setting also keeps both of you focused on the task at hand.
- Explain the concern. Armed with accurate data and examples, you should calmly address the issue. Ask the employee if he is aware of any ongoing problems to determine his awareness of the situation. If the employee says he is unaware, describe the unacceptable behavior in a non-accusatory manner.
- Listen. One of the most important steps is making sure the employee has a chance to respond to the allegations and that he feels heard by you. Use active listening skills to attain this goal, such as repeating the message back to the employee, giving him your undivided attention and building rapport.
- Create an action plan. Once the employee begins to understand how his actions are affecting others in the organization, you now need to create an action plan for next steps. Talk about what specific behaviors you need to see and which benchmarks will demonstrate the changes that take place. Including the employee as often as possible in this process will increase the likelihood of the goals being met and negative behavior decreasing. It is also important for the employee to understand what may happen if the situation does not improve. Establish a reasonable timeline for behavioral change and make a future date to discuss progress.
- Provide resources. If your organization has resources to help employees in the areas of counseling, wellbeing, work/life or trainings, offer these benefits to the employee. A good example is a referral to your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides confidential support in a variety of personal and professional areas.
- Document. Whenever you are dealing with personnel issues, it is imperative to involve HR, as well as make some kind of record of the entire situation, including the negative behavior, any meetings you have had with the employee, what the outcome of those meetings were, subsequent follow-up and any other miscellaneous information.
- Follow through. If the situation does not improve or gets worse, you need to be prepared to suspend or possibly terminate the employee, depending on the situation; work with HR to ensure you follow proper policy and protocol. On the flip side, if the employee has made strides to improve, take the time to acknowledge this by expressing gratitude and appreciation.
- Be aware of your own behavior. Finally, since the manager usually sets the tone for the team, it is critical you do what you can on a regular basis to engage your employees on a personal and professional level. You can dramatically decrease the likelihood of managing a negative employee by maintaining a positive attitude, practicing open communication, being consistent, exhibiting mutual respect and being firm, yet fair.
What are your thoughts? Do you have any personal stories you are willing to share? Please feel free to ask questions or share your experiences below.
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Jeremy S. joined Empathia in 2007 as a Manager, Client Care Services, then became an Account Manager/Sales Consultant in 2012. He is also a certified wellness and tobacco cessation coach. Jeremy has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Organizational Development. Prior to joining Empathia, he spent 14 years in the EAP industry in a variety of managerial/leadership roles at another behavioral healthcare organization. Jeremy enjoys reading, photography, music and spending time with his wife and daughters.