HR Insights
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November 29, 2017

Five tips for managers to handle negative attitudes in the workplace

A work environment with happy employees leads to increased engagement and productivity, and a strong bottom line. But negativity in the workplace can have a detrimental effect on culture. Here are some tips to help handle the tough conversations.

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One of the keys to building an effective workplace is creating a rich culture, sustained by people who care about each other and are willing to collaborate toward a common goal. If you have talented people on your team and a strong sense of cooperation, you’ll be well on your way to employee retention and productivity.

Ceridian’s 2017 Pulse of Talent found that nearly half (47%) of respondents from across the U.S. and Canada listed co-workers among a host of reasons they choose to stay at their current employer.

Toxic or negative co-workers, then, can make work unbearable. If you have people on your team with bad attitudes, their feelings may spread to the rest of the workplace. Negative employee attitudes can harm workplace culture, impacting morale and employee engagement, and may also result in a ripple effect of unhappy customers.

The source of workplace negativity is often difficult to identify. It’s important for managers to regularly touch base with their employees, and if they detect a problem, address it.

How managers confront and handle negative attitudes, however, makes a difference. Managers who lead by example, modeling behaviors they want to see on their teams, can positively influence the collective mindset. In some cases, a negative attitude may be a response to a bigger issue, so rather than deal with negative attitudes punitively from the outset, first search for real answers about the problem, and find options for creating positive morale.  Here are some tips for handling those tough conversations.

Communicate and collaborate

Part of being an effective manager is being able to sit down with employees and have difficult conversations about their attitudes at work. Communication is key to building strong teams.

Where possible, managers should work together with their employee, whether through coaching, creating a plan for improvement or providing specific feedback. Talk about the impact of a negative attitude on the team, and be open to hearing the employee’s point of view. What’s the origin of the employee’s negativity? How can you address it in the future and improve people’s attitudes?

While these situations can be awkward, it helps to stay positive and focus on achieving good results. That’s something everyone can get behind.

Determine if there’s an underlying, bigger issue

It’s important to note that an employee’s bad attitude at work might be reflective of a bigger issue within the organization. According to several studies, there could be something underneath negative banter that requires further discussion. In other cases, negative emotions are indicative of growth, and are part of evaluating an experience. A little bit of ranting is healthy sometimes. Use this as an opportunity to do a pulse check with the whole team. Let people get it out of their system, then move on.

Be specific about the changes you want to see

It can be hard for an employee to change his or her behavior if they’re not clear on what needs to change. David Maxfield, Vice President of Research for the corporate training firm VitalSmarts and co-author of Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, noted in Fast Company, “[In our research we found that] 70% of employees who were aware that their boss was unhappy with their performance couldn’t tell you what they were doing wrong or how they were going to change it.”

Up your training skills

Managers should be equipped with the skills and training necessary to handle bad attitudes and their resulting impact. Coaching your employees, for example, may be an effective tactic in transforming bad attitudes into positive ones. Being able to recognize the signs, and understand different personality types and communication styles goes a long way towards creating a more positive workplace.

Emphasize the “we”

At the end of the day, a great manager’s job is to empower the entire team to succeed, not just each individual. When discussing workplace issues and trying to eliminate negativity, it’s best to put your goals in “we” terms so that everyone understands the goals they’re trying to accomplish together.

Read next: Three tips for employee recognition

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