Dealing with an employee with a negative attitude | Moorepay
February 28, 2024

Dealing with an employee with a negative attitude

stressed woman rubbing her face under glasses

Tired of the office grump? Fear not! In this guide, we’ll be covering all the do’s and don’ts for dealing with employees with a not-so-sunny disposition regarding the work place.

It’s not uncommon for a workplace to have one or two employees that are known for their negative attitude towards their jobs. Unfortunately, the negative attitude exuding from just a couple of members of staff can have a negative impact upon the entire workforce and even the success of the business.

Given enough time, this kind of attitude could cause irreparable damage, resulting in other members of staff leaving the company, as well as customers choosing to take their business elsewhere. For this reason, it is a good idea to address any concerns over an employee with a negative attitude as soon as you can, to reduce the impact it has one everyone else around them.

Identifying employees with bad attitudes

Before you can deal with this problem, you first need to be able to identify the employees who have a negative attitude. Although you might think that this should be obvious, it isn’t always the case. It’s not unusual for an employee with a negative attitude to be adequate in their work and quiet in their role so as not to stand out as a troublemaker to the boss, while still having a negative attitude towards other co-workers, customers, and their work. To spot these negative-minded employees, look out for ones who:

  • Undermine the authority of management, criticising decisions made.
  • Complain frequently about the business, their workload, customers or colleagues.
  • Exaggerate problems or mistakes made by either the company or other members of staff.
  • Gossips about other employees or management to cause tension between staff members.

Preparing to speak to employees with a bad attitude

Once you have identified the team members that have a bad attitude in the workplace, the next step is to prepare yourself to speak to them. To do this, consider the impact you believe the bad attitude of the employee is having on the business and those who work with them. Reflect on how the behaviour of this employee differs from the rest of the staff and imagine the difference it would make to the morale of the business and team members if this attitude were eradicated.

It’s a good idea to make sure you have a good framework in place within the company, that there are policies regarding how an employee should behave and work and if possible, print this out to have a copy of it for the meeting. During the meeting, you can refer back to this and show the employee where they are falling short of complying with the general rules of the company. It’s also recommended to have more than one person conduct the meeting, with at least one supervisor or HR representative in the room to take notes of the meeting. Doing this will help the employee to see that concerns over the bad attitude are being taken seriously.

Tips for speaking to an employee with an attitude

When you speak to an employee, ensure that you:

  • Try to make the employee feel comfortable. These kinds of meetings can be quite awkward as the topic is one that is difficult to discuss, so you should let the employee know that you understand this.
  • Focus on the positive to begin with. For example, you can tell the employee what they do/how they behave which is good.
  • Focus on results and productivity, where possible. The employee may feel that they are being attacked and go on the defensive, so try to use phrases which focus on the effects of the bad attitude, such as “I am bringing this up because it’s important you understand the impact that a negative attitude has on your colleagues and the company as a whole.” 
  • Be specific, have an example of a bad attitude that you want changing and avoid being vague about what your issue is. Telling an employee that you don’t like their attitude is not going to be very productive, however, telling an employee that their gossiping about co-workers causes tension, on the other hand, is much more direct. 
  • You can then explain how making changes to attitude will improve on job performance and general morale going forward.
  • Listen to what your employee has to say, they may tell you the root cause of their attitude. Even if they don’t, letting the employee speak will allow them to voice their concerns, make them feel like they have a voice, give them chance to defend their actions and generally allow them to blow off steam, all of which might in itself, help the bad attitude situation.
  • Be inclusive, try to use words like ‘we’ (i.e. “we feel like your attitude has declined etc.) and avoid using ‘you’ too often as this directs blame onto one person and may make them feel singled out.
  • Avoid adding a ‘but’ or ‘however’ onto the end of positive statements, otherwise, your employee will feel like you can’t say anything nice, without turning it into a negative. Give the employee some positive feedback and go on to say how this ‘could be made even better’ instead of saying where it ‘needs improvement’.
  • Give the employee time to think about what you are saying. As a manager, it is tempting to try to fill awkward silences within a meeting, but sometimes this can anger the other person. Instead, allow silences within the meeting, give your employee time to think and appreciate exactly what you are saying.

It’s personal (but not really)

It’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different and, as such, every employee may need to be treated slightly differently. Understand the employee on a personal level, and work with them to find an approach that works in changing their attitude.

If you don’t see change and the attitude remains the same, you may have to consider taking formal disciplinary action.

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Elaine Prichard
About the author

Elaine Pritchard

Elaine has a wealth of knowledge in producing contracts, training materials and other documentation as well as training other consultants. She piloted a scheme whereby she went on-site to act as a client’s HR Manager two days per week, whilst the post-holder was on maternity leave. Elaine also previously ran her own retail business for seven years, employing four people. Elaine is a field based consultant for Moorepay and provides on-site HR and Employment Law advice, consultancy and training services to our clients.