Bad apples

I read an article that said when it comes to employees, one bad apple really can spoil the whole barrel.  But I find it difficult to address problems with employee attitude because it's so hard to clearly identify it.  Does anyone have a suggestion for approaching an employee that has a negative attitude?  The article said it's important to address the situation as soon as possible before the negativity spreads.  Any suggestions are appreciated!


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  • The article is right, but this is a difficult situation to manage.  Is an employee negative because of outside issues (going through a divorce, etc.) or because of something in the workplace (an imagined slight by the supervisor, feeling of unfair treatment, etc.)?

    The negativity could be addressed in a performance appraisal by spinning it to "what can we do to make your job more satisfying, make your work experience better" or such to bring out the reason for the negativity. Or the manager or HR staffer could think of an excuse to meet alone with the employee and work the questions into the conversation.

    Another move would be to temporarily place the negative employee in a different work group or team assignment to see if the negativity is based in the individual or in group dynamics.

  • Negativity spreads rapidly.  I think I would observe the group interaction before I did anything.  After noting certain things I considered negative, I might call the person aside and explain that there seems to be a problem. 

    If the person does not think there is a problem, perhaps stating some of the observations made might help.  The person may have no idea that they are being negative and this discussion may help them to overcome their responses to things.  He/she, on the other hand, may have some real issues about the group and/or assignment.  This will take a little bit longer to work through, but if the person is willing, change can occur. 

    There will always be the one person who will not talk about a problem and/or not think there is a problem.  This is the type of person that things have to be really spelled out for and consequences have to be determined.  This is also the type of person that you really have to follow all handbook procedures for.  Hopefully this is not the type of person you will be working with.

  • These type of employees who have negative attitudes and complain alot are what we term "Ninjas".  Thier attitudes effect those around them causing others to pick up some of the negative actions or words.  Most of the time they are the ones that talk to other employees about how bad they have it or how the company does this or that wrong.  It's like they come in the night spread thier virus and watch the effect it has.  A couple things that we do to try and combat this type of behavior is to bring it out into the open:

    Staff training where we train employees on how to deal with Ninjas in the workplace.  There are several trainings available that are quick and very productive.  Most employees dont want to get drawn into someone elses problems or complaints with the company. In the training we give a ladder with supervisors or H.R. individuals for the employees to follow to vent if they have frustrations.  Of course the people on the ladder have to be trustworthy and compassionate. 

    Employee incentives that not only award good performance but good attitudes. These don't have to be expensive or elaborate just a little token like a lunch or a plaque.   We even do funny certificates that they can hang on the wall or thier desk.  You would be surprised how well this works.

    Theres tons of ways to award those that are doing things the right way and in the process lets the ones that arent doing it right feel like they need to make a change.  However there are those that you just have to plain ole confront cause they won't get it unless you do. 

    Hope this helps a little


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