How To Manage Negative Employees
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How To Manage Negative Employees

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CEO at Larsan Technologies
Negative employees can be found in all organizations – whether small or big. The negative employee is one who creates problems for his team, for his manager and even for the organization as a whole. Such employees can be found at all levels of the organization, from the lowest level to even at the management level.

So, who are these negative employees? They are employees who have ‘negative’ attitude. Their behavioral pattern is negative and they have a negative influence on the people interacting with them. They adopt various ways to create negativity in the organization – they spread rumors and gossips about their co-workers, manager or even the organization. Each and every action taken by the manager / management is viewed with suspicion. These people, if not carefully managed, can suck the energy of the manager and the organization. They are, basically, unhappy people who resist the positive efforts of others.

Managers often hesitate to terminate them if they are productive or have special skills/experience. Sometimes managers do not understand the amount of stress a negative employee creates. It may be hard to accept that a negative employee who did a good job did so at the expense of the productivity of others. Yet ignoring or tolerating the problems and atmosphere they create can easily and quickly result in dissatisfaction among other employees.
What can a manager do when faced with this unpleasant situation?
First and foremost, analyze the situation. How important is the person for the success of the organization? What has been the person’s behavioral record in the past? Is the change in attitude a recent phenomenon or has it been there for a long time? Is the change in attitude related to any recent incident like performance appraisal or rewards or transfer to any department against the wishes of the employee? How much does the person contribute to the unhappiness of other employees? How does that unhappiness translate into reduced productivity and enthusiasm? How much of your time as a manager is spent to control the situation? What are the legal ramifications (if any) of discharging the employee?
Second, plan a course of action. Once you get the answers to the questions and you decide to try to salvage the employee, with termination only as a last resort, consider these tips:
Discuss the situation threadbare with the employee. Tell him everything clearly without mincing words. The employee will probably profess ignorance of any problem or acknowledge the situation but blame the problems on others, or become defiant and try to play mind games with you. The employee may also voice his or her own complaints. Evaluate the employee’s position. Even a negative person can have a legitimate complaint. Evaluate not only the employee’s response to your remarks but whether the employee has legitimate concerns you need to consider. If the complaint is the basis of the person’s negative attitude/behavior, resolving it should result in a more positive situation. Often, however, the complaint is either a smoke screen for the employee’s behavior or resulted from the person’s own negativity.
Focus on a behavior you want changed, not an attitude. It is extremely difficult to change the attitude of any person and not worth trying, unless and until the concerned employee is extremely important for the success of the organization and finding a replacement may be very difficult. Accept the reality that you may not be able to change the person into an ideal employee, even if you are a great manager. However, you can specify an action or goal for the employee and then follow through on the employee’s progress. Once you see improvement, focus on another area. Always, of course, acknowledge the employee’s efforts.
Ask a peer to speak with the employee and reinforce the message that you have conveyed to the employee. This can get touchy if all of the employee’s peers are thoroughly disgusted with the person. Find one or more persons you feel can speak fairly and tactfully with the employee to explain that other employees do not sympathize with his or her negative cause. The goal is to help the person see that a better attitude would benefit everyone.
Consider assigning work that will somewhat isolate the person from other employees and limit contact and thereby damage to the organization. Many work situations require cooperation and teamwork that make an isolation technique unworkable, but it may be feasible in some cases. You may even encounter an employee who prefers the isolation and is less negative when working alone. Unfortunately, negative employees often seek out fellow workers--either to complain about the job/boss/life in general, or to accuse other employees as the source of their unhappiness. Set a limit and stick with it. Managers in a wide variety of businesses have adopted the ‘three strikes and you’re out rule’. Make the employee aware of the limits, tell them when they strike and remind them when they have only one strike left.
Third, terminate the employee. If the negative employee ignores your warnings and refuses to cooperate, take the inevitable step and terminate. Once you decide this is the proper course, take action. Otherwise, you risk a loss of respect and credibility as a manager by other employees.