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Difficult Employee Series: The Negative Attitude

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We’ve all encountered one or two, and, unfortunately, they tend to pervade the modern workplace: an individual who seems relentlessly negative, no matter the situation. It can take the form of cynicism, apathy, a resistance to change, or even outright disruptive behaviour; but what unites these symptoms is an overall sense of pessimism that tends to bring everyone down.

Effectively managing such a person is a difficult task. Often, it’s important to examine the underlying reasons for their negativity, why they are behaving in such a way, before taking firm action. There are several strategies for this – more on which later – but to begin with, let us acknowledge the consequences of leaving this difficult employee to their own devices or ‘sweeping the problem under the rug’.

Understanding the Impact of Negative Attitudes

Negative attitudes among employees can create a toxic work environment, affecting not only the individuals displaying such attitudes but also their colleagues and the organisation as a whole. Here are some key consequences:

  • Decreased Productivity: Employees with negative attitudes often perform below their potential, leading to lower productivity levels. Their lack of enthusiasm and motivation can spread to others, creating a ripple effect.
  • Poor Employee Morale: A discouraging work environment can erode the morale of even the most optimistic employees. This can result in increased absenteeism, higher turnover rates, and difficulties in attracting and retaining top talent.
  • Reduced Team Cohesion: Bad attitudes can disrupt team dynamics and hinder effective collaboration. This can impede the achievement of team goals and decrease overall organisational performance. When one person is unenthusiastic, it can frustrate the rest of the team, or even spread among them.
  • Increased Conflict: This frustration can in turn escalate conflicts among employees, leading to workplace tension and potentially costly disputes.
  • Impact on Customer Relations: An unhelpful attitude isn’t just bad for people within the business, but can even affect interactions with customers, which can cause reputation damage and impact your bottom line.

Strategies for Managing Employees with Negative Attitudes

To avoid all of these harmful effects, it becomes necessary to know how to deal with an employee that can’t seem to help but be something of a scrooge. Thankfully, there are ways to help the situation before it escalates:

Early Detection

Management should always establish mechanisms for early detection of negative attitudes through regular feedback and performance evaluations. Identifying issues at an early stage allows for timely intervention, and will save you countless hours of stress in the long-term.

Open Communication

Foster a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns. Managers should provide channels for employees to voice their grievances, ensuring they are heard and addressed promptly, rather than leaking out in someone’s day-to-day work.

Provide Support

Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what people are going through at any given moment. Negative attitudes can stem from personal issues that have nothing to do with the business, or, if they are work-related, then they should also be addressed in due course. Support mechanisms such as counselling, coaching or training can help employees overcome their difficulties before they bleed into the rest of the workplace.

Set Clear Expectations

Clearly define expectations for behaviour and performance. Ensure that employees understand the organization’s values and code of conduct, and that a degree of professionalism is to be maintained at all times. Be supportive, yes, but remind staff that there are standards to which they are held.

Training and Development

Offer training programs that address specific attitude-related issues, such as conflict resolution, stress management, and interpersonal skills: it may seem somewhat left of the field, but the impact of proper training shouldn’t be ignored. When used correctly, it can be an invaluable resource.

Encourage Positivity

Promote a positive workplace culture by recognizing and rewarding employees for their achievements and positive contributions. It may sound obvious, but the real cure to negativity is positivity!

Progressive Discipline

In cases where bad attitudes persist despite intervention, you may need to implement progressive discipline measures, including verbal warnings, written warnings, and, if necessary, termination. Naturally, this should be considered a last resort, but it’s nonetheless crucial to follow procedure and address problems before they fester, and a negative employee is no different in that regard.

Leadership Role Modeling

Ultimately, leaders shape the workplace culture, and that includes attitudes. Negativity and pessimism from the top only generates insecurity and unease in others; as such, it’s important that owners and managers lead from the front, and set the example for others to follow.


Managing employees with negative attitudes is a critical responsibility. By addressing negative attitudes proactively and effectively, you can create a more productive, harmonious, and positive work environment that allows everyone to thrive. However, it should always be done with a sense of care and sensitivity. Honest discussions about grievances in a private, professional setting can make a real difference to someone’s viewpoint.

This not only benefits the employees themselves, but also contributes to the organisation’s success and long-term sustainability. In an era where workplace culture and employee wellbeing are paramount, managing bad attitudes should be a central focus for employers, management and HR departments that are striving to create a thriving and inclusive workplace.

If you are looking for further advice or information on how to deal with a difficult employee, then why not contact the team at HR:4UK, who have decades of experience in dealing with all manner of challenging situations across the country. You can call 01455 444 222 or email [email protected] today to get in touch.

James Dawson

James is our resident wordsmith and has many years of experience in writing about a huge variety of topics from HR to Occupational Health and beyond. He has been published in numerous magazines and news outlets, and especially enjoys researching and analysing the current trends in the modern business world.