How many of you, when you read the title, had a face or name pop into your head? I know I did. Years ago, I worked with a woman who ruled our administrative offices with her negativity. She had a toxic attitude; however, she was not an under-performer. She brought good practices to the accounting department. She implemented some new techniques to increase how accounting functioned.
Moreover, she tainted the overall atmosphere in our Administrative office. The day she announced she was leaving us for another job was met with a sense of hope. The next day, the whole office felt lighter, happier. It was a fresh start for many of us who had worked with our very own Negative Nelly. Our Negative Neds and Nellies can lead to Bully Bob and Bully Barbara. Make sure that doesn’t happen.
I can’t think of anything that brings down an organization faster than working with or for someone who is persistently negative. It often becomes a virus that spreads like wildfire when it grows unchecked. It’s a powerful condition that can be incredibly contagious. So how do you stop the infection of negativity?
- Set clear behavior guidelines – Outline in your policies & procedures what you define as acceptable behaviors. In several articles over the last 12 months, I’ve written about bad behaviors. What will you condone? What won’t you tolerate. Define it and put it in writing. When those bad unacceptable behaviors are defined and documented they are no longer subjective. Define what you want to see and hear:
- Respect for others – coworkers, clients, vendors, parents (of your clients)
- Commitment to high ethical standards – define what you value
- Commitment to the community – where your organization does business and the impact you wish to achieve
- Civility – The NLRA has suggested that including a civility clause can be helpful. Their idea, “Behavior that is rude, condescending or otherwise socially unacceptable is prohibited.”
- Teamwork – What does that look like (respect for others, high ethical standards)
- Listen – Are there real issues either from a personal viewpoint, (e.g., illness, divorce, financial issues) or from a professional standpoint (e.g., short staffed, increased workload, changes in dress codes or working conditions, impending layoffs)? Decide if what you have heard has some teeth. Perhaps a referral to your EAP (Employee Assistance Plan) would be helpful or hiring some temporary staff will ease the issue and end the negativity. Sometime short-term negativity is fixable and just that, short-term. What if it’s not fixable in the immediate future? Is this a perpetual Negative Ned? If so, limit lending your ear. Don’t agree and don’t argue.
- Give clear direction and feedback – Don’t just ignore the person and situation. Don’t complain about it. Set it on the right track by being direct and honest with your NN. Giving honest feedback is difficult. We want our employees to like us and most of us don’t like confrontation. Explain the behaviors and the impact they have in the program or department. Work with the person. Give them some control (the how) so that the responsibility to implement change comes from them and not from you.
- Document, document, document – If it isn’t written down…it didn’t happen (at least from jury’s view point or when fighting an unemployment claim). I realize that on the Hotline, we mention documentation every chance we get and there is an important reason for that. We believe documentation is critical for a multitude of reasons. As a reminder of:
- What is the issue(s)
- What you discussed
- Ideas for change
- What you agreed upon for action
- How you (the supervisor) will support and encourage the changes
- Timelines and target deadlines
- Follow through with it all
As Michael Jackson said, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch…” Today, and always, civility rules. Consistency and communication with those we work with, for, and supervise, is paramount for organizational success. Resolving negativity in the workplace has immense rewards for all; less stress, less absenteeism, better teamwork, higher morale and importantly, trust. It can be challenging to turn around and it can be done!
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