Planning negates negative staff

How to deal with the office moaner

Everyone knows the negative employee type — it doesn’t matter what improvements you make or how much you try to listen to their gripes, the negative employee is never happy. The problem is that in many cases, they won’t actually leave the organisation. Instead, they spread their negativity like a virus around the workplace.

According to, it can be tricky to deal with because this person comes to work every day, doesn’t tend to be late, completes his or her job duties and doesn’t break any company policies. In fact, it’s quite likely they’ve received positive performance appraisals and pay increases during their time in job.

“The negative employee does not provide you, the manager, with any easy to evaluate objective work performance deficits,” the article says.

So how do you deal with a negative employee?

The article suggests you observe and quantify the person’s behaviour so that before you say anything, you have examples of negative behaviour.

“For example, ‘I have observed you telling four employees last week that they should resist using the new accounting methods’.”

The article says this requires a degree of preparation, because otherwise, the negative employee will merely dismiss your observations.

“For example, the negative employee might tell you he or she was simply joking, or that you misunderstood their true intentions.”

The article also advises getting organisational support — run your observations past another manager or the HR department.

“It is also a good idea to work with another manager, who can act as a witness to your behaviour, during any closed-door meeting you have with the negative employee. Remember, you are dealing with an employee who is already acting out their discontent; therefore, you need to have organisational support and a witness to your interactions when dealing with the negative employee.”

You should also try to offer to help the negative employee and find out what would turn their behaviour around.

“In this step, you may get an explanation of what is motivating his or her negative behaviour. The explanation may assist you in understanding what type of help to offer the negative employee to become more positive.”

Let the employee know that future appraisals will include subjective measures such as an assessment of how the employee is either increasing or decreasing his or her negative behaviours.

Writing in a article, Joanne Murray takes this a step further by suggesting that when doing performance appraisals, you look at every staff member’s contribution to morale. “This way, there's less chance someone will claim he is being singled out. Generalise this expectation to all staff.”

According to Murray's article, a McKinsey study found that while most staff would be rapt if managers dealt with problem employees, only 7% of the thousands surveyed believed their companies were actually doing it.

Murray writes that by taking on your negative employee, “you send the message to your department that you are a strong manager who is up to the task.

"[You also] reinforce the positive contributions of your hardworking, positive staff”.

However, she advises that when addressing the issue, make sure you don’t describe a negative employee’s problem as an “attitude" problem.

“This is too subjective and will in all likelihood be viewed as personal dislike rather than a legitimate performance problem. Cite specific examples drawing the relationship between the negative behaviour and staff productivity and morale.” advises that there are different types of negative employees — pessimists, criticisers and just downright negative personalities.

Pessimists see the glass as half empty while criticisers displace many of their own anxieties on to others, criticising them to make themselves look or feel better, Career-Intelligence says.

“Supervisors can help negative employees by focusing on their strong points and pointing out where they excel. Developing an area they can take charge of also helps to build a positive attitude."

Mills is a Dunedin writer. Email her at

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags management

More about

Show Comments