Peer-To-Peer: Dealing with a negative employee

Written by ProfitGuide Staff


“I have an employee who is a very good worker, quick to learn, and responsible. However, she is always complaining about her work. What’s the best way to deal with her negativity?”

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Reader responses

Cindy Morales:

If she is a good worker as you say, then it would be worthwhile listening to her complaints, even if they can’t be addressed right away. After a while you might notice a pattern or theme; for example, she might feel she should have more responsibility in her job. It might not be easy finding out what’s underneath her negativity, but it can keep a good worker on board. And if she does leave eventually, I hope you feel rewarded knowing you helped her career. Then you’ll have something in common with most other successful entrepreneurs, as they all speak proudly of the people they’ve helped rather than the wealth they’ve earned!

R. Setter:

No question here, remove the person. Negativity is contagious. This person will drag everyone down with their attitude. There are always challenges, ups and downs everyone faces, those bad days when nothing goes according to plan, but this sounds like an ongoing situation regardless of the circumstances. Consider this: if they are always complaining, who are they complaining to? They are complaining to other coworkers, so what is happening while all this complaining is going on? Nothing! No work is getting done. Keep the negative employee, and watch productivity, quality and customer service fall.

Moscou Cote, voyagesconstellation.com:

Laugh about her complaining with her! Sounds silly, but it works. Every time she complains about something work-related, start laughing and say something like:
“Yeah, I wish it wasn’t like that!”
“I know what you mean!”
“Isn’t that true!”
“Tell me about it!”
“Yep, life isn’t easy!”
Eventually, she will stop bugging you with those complaints, or quit, because she thinks she is not being appreciated.

Karen Hamilton:

Instead of trying to deal with your employee’s negativity, take some time to listen to what the employee is saying. Perhaps her job is disempowering and she may not be contributing to the company the way she feels she is qualified to do. Oftentimes, managers are quick to call an employee who is unhappy with their current position “negative.” However, if you value your employee and she is clearly a good worker as you say, then be a manager and turn her into a leader. Do not stunt her growth and fire her later because you could not be a good manager.

Mireille Mainville, Global Automation Partners:

If the employee is a very good worker — quick to learn and responsible — then the reasons behind the constant complaining must be real. By paying attention to these complaints, you most likely will find the cause of the negativity and be able to take the proper actions.

Rob Carol, Action International Canada:

It is important to know why a person is negative. A frank discussion is always best. I refer you to the book, First Break all the Rules by Markus Buckingham. The point is well made that answers are seldom simple and certainly could not be delivered in this format without lots more information.

Gord Sylvester, Airdrie Hobby & Cycle:

I have been through the same situation where the worker was good in every respect but their attitude. I had a long talk with the employees and tried to understand if their complaints were legitimate. If they were legitimate, then I took steps to solve those issues. I also explained that their attitude affected the whole store and was dragging the morale of the whole staff down. If I could not turn around their attutude, I let them go. The cost of keeping a complainer is much higher than one may realize.

Charlotte McCall, Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan Inc.:

Tell her that complaints will be viewed as positive feedback, as long as she has also put some thought into possible solutions.

Pam McInnes, A-ha! Writing Services:

I would suggest meeting with her and asking her what’s wrong. Her negativity could be caused by a personal matter or by something within her job that she doesn’t like. Regardless of what is causing her to be so negative, you can’t resolve anything until you understand what’s going on. Remember to ask what’s bothering her in such a way that won’t seem intrusive or get her on the defensive. Let her know that you are just concerned and you want her to be happy. And you do, because good employees are hard to find.

Susan Peddie, Fitter International Inc.:

I have had this issue in several different work environments and this is the strategy that I used:

Talk to the employee. Not in a disciplinary-action type of mode, but a “let’s sit down and talk.” In several instances when I did this, the employee did not even realize what they were doing. When they realized the impact that they were having on others, they were able to curb the negativity. Ask them to replace negative statements with positive thoughts or statements; give them an idea of how that can change not only their outlook but also the outlook of those around them.

Be aware that if you open this conversation and you speak to someone about negativity, you may find it’s coming from their environment outside of work: things at home may be challenging, they may have issues with sickness or pending divorce. I know one employee was having issues with budgeting and handling money which was causing significant mood swings, negativity and depression. We got him enrolled in a budgeting class with experts that could help him, and offered him in-office support (use of a computer to do Excel spreadsheets). As he worked through this area, we spent time with him one on one, making him aware that he had a huge impact on the people around him by how he was feeling that day. That awareness — and, of course, the will to change — has made him a better employee and made the workplace a more pleasant environment.

Sometimes it is just time for the employee to move on; there’s nothing you can do to change where they are. If you have a heart-to-heart talk with the employee and find that they are just miserable in doing the job that they are in and you have nothing that they can move to or are qualified to do, look at some of the options that you might have:

  • If the employee has been a good worker, but needs a change, is there education that can help them fit into another area of your business or further on-the-job training that you can give them?
  • As a last resort, if it is time for the employee to move on, terminate the employee. Some will never change and if they are the cause of a serious issue within a department or workplace, then get them out of there. Negativity can spread like a bad cancer, and often getting to the route of the problem goes a long way in getting the rest of the workplace healthy.

For her answer, Susan Peddie will receive a copy of Tough Management by Chuck Martin.

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com