How to handle staff with a negative attitude

5 min read  |   2 May, 2023   By George Nash

Two wooden blocks are on a table. One block is being held by finger and it has a happy face on. The other block is behind it and has a sad face.

Negativity is an unfortunate fact of life. It would be great if everyone was happy and positive all the time, but as we all know, that’s as likely as finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Negativity in the workplace however, can be its own beast.

Having one or multiple members of staff with a negative attitude can happen for a variety of reasons, from personal issues, such as mental health, to feeling a lack of purpose in their role. Sometimes a negative attitude might be unavoidable, but it’s what you do to help that can make a real difference.

Let’s jump in a see how you can better handle staff with a negative attitude; why you should help and what a negative attitude could mean for your business.

Decreased productivity

Causes of negative attitude

How to handle an employee with a bad attitude 

Supporting the employee to find a resolution

Adverse effects on other staff and the business

Make sure negativity is not creeping out of the business


Decreased productivity

One of the most common results of having staff with a negative attitude is a decrease in productivity. A negative attitude can be looked at the opposite of employee engagement, and when employees have a positive emotional investment in their company, productivity goes up.

When productivity is down there are a number of ways to tackle the problem, as


When employees are effectively inducted into the company culture, have set goals and a clear idea of their role they are more likely to feel welcomed and happy from the very beginning. Use Breathe’s Induction Process Guide to ensure your new starters get off on the right foot.  


Causes of negative attitude

Any good gardener will tell you that you need to deal with the roots if you want to stop a weed from growing.

A negative attitude can manifest in many different ways, from being uncooperative, tardiness, constant complaining, rudeness to customers or other members of staff to general moaning and unhappiness. But before trying to cure the symptom you need to find the cause.


Identifying what's causing negative behaviour

You don’t have to wait for annual reviews or an allotted check-in to do this. Just set a meeting for a mutually beneficial time to discuss what could be the issue. A formal meeting may not be a comfortable atmosphere so consider keeping it causal.

Be understanding not accusatory, and understand that it may be a difficult subject for the person to bring up. Give assurances that you want what it best for them and the business. From there you can begin to formulate a plan to help them get back on track.


How to handle employees with bad attitudes

“Difficult”, “problematic” and “not easy to work with” are not ways any employee wants to be thought of. And if it’s out of character, chances are the person is aware of how they’re behaving.

When approaching a staff member to discuss their attitude be sure that it’s in a one-to-one setting. Calling them out in front of other staff members is unlikely to do you any favours.

Tips for discussing the issue:

  • Tell them what behaviour of theirs you have noticed. Dancing around the subject or only talking about it vaguely could result in even more confusion and lead to no resolution at all.
  • When someone sees you being honest they’re more likely to reciprocate, leading to a more fruitful discussion.
  • It sounds obvious, but kindness can go a long way to resolving a lot of problems – a good listener and a chance to get something off their chest might be all it takes.

Supporting the employee to find a resolution 

Once you’ve identified the issue causing the negative attitude and discussed it, then you’re ready to find a resolution.

The outcome of these meetings should provide you with a clear idea of what is bothering your employee and together you can find a way to make it a thing of the past.

One way to do this is to treat each situation like a mini staff appraisal. By going through the process of regular check-ins, focusing on positives and feedback both you and your employee will be able to measure how they are feeling since implementing a meaningful strategy.

Adverse effects on other staff and the business

Leave a negative attitude to fester and it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy: a negative attitude leads to a lack of interest, which leads to poor performance, which leads to a lack of purpose, which leads back to a negative attitude. And then the cycle begins again.

Leave it any longer and that negativity may start to infect other members of staff, staff morale and further disrupt your business.

Try to nip any problem in the bud before it has any chance of spreading further in your team.

Make sure negativity is not affecting business

One of the absolute worst things a negative attitude could do to your business is sabotage or affect customer relations - as well as your organisational culture

If left unchecked the negativity could be doing harm to your company image and culture or even your customer base. With the relationship between businesses and society closer than ever its important that your employees are a positive representation of your brand and your values.

When you can turn a negative experience into a positive one you may be able to make an employee’s experience at your business better than they ever thought. Taking the time and attention to focus on both employees who are doing well and others who aren’t will lead to an overall stronger team.

Author: George Nash

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