The Best 7 Ways to Manage Negative Employees

A negative employee is different from a difficult one. They not only cause harm, but also spread their negativity. They will follow patterns of frustrating or de-energizing teammates. It is not just about that one employee, but the entire team suffering simply because of him/her.

There is that one teammate who is a bad apple; the one that simply refuses to be even. Such people are filled with negativity and hate towards their work, the company and every activity that the management asks them to do. They don’t just make their life miserable, they make sure everyone in their team suffers because of them. Situations like this make you wonder, “how to manage negative employees”.

A negative employee is different from a difficult one. Negative employees do not just cause harm, they spread their negativity to others around them as well. They will follow patterns of frustrating or de-energizing teammates. It is not just about that one employee, but the entire team suffering simply because of him/her. Primarily, you must stay away from hiring negative people. But then, no one does so on purpose. So, if you end up hiring one, here are 7 ways on how to manage negative employees.

  1. Discover the cause

Everything happens for a reason. There is always a cause that results in the employee behaving in a particular manner. Therefore, dig deeper and try to find what is causing such negative behaviour in the employee. Are they unhappy with the job and its responsibilities? Maybe they are struggling with personal life? Or, are they being bullied by coworkers and reacting in this way?

Talk to the employee about the reasons for such behaviour. In case you find them, offer help. Coach and guide the individual or suggest different resources to address and solve the problem’s root cause. For instance, if an employee is struggling with divorce or is suffering from mental issues, offer them access to counselling or some time off, which could probably help them alleviate the issue.

  1. Give direct feedback

Most of the time, negative employees are unaware of the negativity they spread around them. More often, these individuals do not understand that they could have such a destructive effect on the other employees. They are usually so focused on their needs and behaviours and are oblivious of their negative impact. That is why it is essential to provide them with honest and direct feedback so that they recognise and acknowledge the issue and accept the opportunity to improve or change themselves.

It is important to give objective feedback about their behaviour and the effects it has been having on others. Use specific examples and appropriate language along with being direct. For instance, simply saying, “you are annoying other employees”, does not help. This is not constructive feedback. You will have to be more specific with your feedback to make it more constructive.

Sit with them and create improvement plans; discuss their behaviour and inform them about what is expected from them. Strive to create precisely defined and measurable goals.

  1. Highlight the repercussions

If a softer approach does not work, try the tough approach. By nature, we are more responsive to a potential loss than a potential gain. Therefore, it is important to let the offenders know of the consequences if they do not improve. Let them understand what they will lose if they do not fall in line.

If an employee is hesitant about reforms or is averse to the idea of improvement, find out their weaknesses and likings, such as the bonuses, incentives and work from home, and put those at stake to create urgency. The likelihood of losing out on promotions or increments will make things real for them and compel them to behave more civilised.

  1. Accept that not all employees change

Hope for the best but always prepare for the worst. It is better to hope that employees will show improvement when confronted with the consequences. However, not everyone would respond to these tactics the same way; some may not show any signs of improvement or be willing to do so despite counselling and warnings.

As per studies, approx. 4% of those individuals continue to engage with this type of behaviour simply because it is fun and most believe that there will be no consequences. Then, how to deal with negative employees? Well, if the stricter solutions are not providing a positive response from the employee, you may have to look for far more serious solutions.

  1. Document every single thing

When you finally decide to fire a non-complying employee, you must do so in a legal manner to avoid lawsuits or legal action in the future. Begin by documenting the offences or behaviours of the employees and the specific response you have offered. Notice patterns in their behaviour and the steps taken or identified to address this. Also document the info provided, resources or warnings given, and the employee’s failure to show any changes.

You should also include documented material to support your findings, such as formal complaints, performance-related information, peer reviews or 360-degree reviews. The purpose is to legally and ethically safeguard your company and yourself and show the employees why exactly they are asked to leave.

  1. Separate the negative employee from the others

If you cannot achieve a conclusive solution to the bad apple problem, you can, at least, isolate them from the remainder of the team to avoid further spread of negativity. According to research, employees who are closer to negative people become negative themselves, without even realising that they are changing. This risk quickly subsides if you separate bad employees and their team.

This physical distance will create a buffer zone and diminish the impact of the negative employee on other employees in the team. This is also a subtle way to let the offender become aware of why they are being isolated from the group. It will help them want to improve so as to find a place closer to the team. The steps that you can take to isolate the employee include reassigning projects, rearranging desks, encouraging remote work and scheduling fewer meetings involving the individual. Slowly, you may find the situation improving.

However, remember to be discreet while doing so. Allow other employees to approach you regarding the toxic employee’s behaviour. Also, hold one-to-one discussions with other employees before implementing the process and coach them to interact minimally with the said employee.

  1. Do not get distracted

Handling such an employee can take up a lot of your energy and time, affecting productivity. So, make it a point to not spend too much time on them so that your priorities do not go haywire. To counter this negativity and ensure that you flourish, have positive and supportive people around you. Find purpose and meaning in the work you do.

Also, managers, if dealing with a negative employee, tend to drain you of all your energy and enthusiasm, build your energy by eating right, exercising and proper sleeping. Take a break, when possible — both short weekend trips as well as long vacations. Being proactive and healthy is the best way to avoid the toxic effects of negative behaviour.

Negative employees are part and parcel of work life. Every organization will have at least one such individual who is unhappy about everything. These tips can help you effectively handle and manage such employees. The essence lies in creating a buffer zone between the team and a toxic employee.

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