This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”
Negative Nancy and Negative Neil. I’m sure the majority of us can agree that we have come across one (or a few) in our careers. Now how do you properly manage their negative attitudes in the workplace? Before you answer “get rid of them”, as some managers commonly respond, let me ask you this: Are they really the problem? Nine times out of ten – No.
In my experience, a negative attitude is a result of one or more underlying sources. Of course, you cannot solve these issues without fully understanding them. How we do that is to dissect them. In our case, your first step is to identify the source. Your second step is then to develop ways in which to manage negative attitudes accordingly.
Identifying the Source of Negative Attitudes
It can be very difficult to understand negative attitudes without first discussing why these feelings exist. I suggest you start by having an open and honest discussion with the employee exhibiting negative behaviour. At this time, it is important to remember three (3) things:
- Give specific examples of the negative attitude(s) or behaviour observed over time,
- Use probing questions to identify what is causing the negative attitude and how any unresolved issues can become resolved, and
- Use active listening skills to clarify both the employee’s and the employer’s responsibilities moving forward.
If you use the above approaches, it becomes much easier to understand negative behaviour, and opens the floor to collaborative problem solving. Here, you want to discuss how the source can be improved (or best managed).
As you can imagine, or have seen first-hand as I have, negativity in the workplace can have dramatic affects on employee performance, the performance of colleagues and the profitability of an organization. Some sources you may have uncovered in your workplace include dissatisfaction or unhappiness with performance evaluations, leadership or management, working conditions, organizational practices or personal challenges. A negative attitude can also be the result of a misunderstanding or lack of information.
Managing Negative Attitudes
Although there are many sources of negative attitudes, I can attest to the fact that your strategy in approaching them must start with communication and follow up. To be clear, managing negative attitudes and their sources highly depends on your commitment to communicate with employees on a regular basis, to offer timely actions that improve the situation (i.e. follow up), and involving them in the process.
During my 6 years of experience as a stand-alone human resources professional in both the construction and manufacturing industry, I have encountered a colourful array of positive and negative attitudes. By far, the most common issue is dissatisfaction with performance management – “the continuous process of identifying, measuring and developing the performance of individuals and teams and aligning performance with the strategic goals of the organization” (Aguinis, 2009). Contacts who work in other industries have also asked me how they should deal with or manage similar issues with performance management systems of their own.
It is important to note here that there are several advantages to having a performance management system. These include increased motivation, self-esteem, and commitment; clarified expectations and organizational goals; organizational change; and timely differentiation between good and poor performers. However, many disadvantages can arise if a performance management system is poorly developed, implemented and/or maintained. An inadequate system can result in increased turnover, the use of misleading information, lowered self-esteem, wasted time and money, damaged relationships, decreased motivation, employee burnout and job dissatisfaction, unjustified demands from managers and employees, unfair standards and ratings, emerging biases and unclear rating systems (Aguinis, 2009). Do any of these drawbacks sound familiar?
Finally; no matter how many cases I have come across, the number one complaint is that employees feel their performance is not being assessed or documented correctly, or being evaluated consistently (if at all). Without fail, those feelings caused many employees to exhibit negative attitudes in the workplace. My advice in improving these attitudes was (1) to obtain employee feedback through communication, (2) to seriously consider employee feedback, (3) to make changes wherever possible, and (4) to involve employees in the progression of change. In time, my advice helped managers develop new assessment tools (using employee feedback), better training for evaluators and evaluation schedules, and held managers more accountable. To everyone’s surprise (but my own), turnover became retention, attitudes were more positive and employees showed higher productivity – making the organization more successful.
So, to answer the question “How do you properly manage negative attitudes in the workplace?” I say, make a commitment to communicate with your staff, to take action in a timely manner, and to involve them in the process.
An article by: Sandy Arseneault, BBA CHRP
Aguinis, H. (2009). Performance Management (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.