Negativity comes in many different forms; however there are five general characteristics of negative thinking:
Focusing on the Negative - This occurs when individuals focus entirely on a single negative aspect of an experience, from either the same day or within the past weeks. A variation of this thinking can be dismissing and devaluing positive experiences.
All or Nothing Thinking - All or nothing thinking looks at things in a black and white perspective. Commonly this involves sensitivity about an event or person's reaction that has no factual basis. If someone thinks only in extremes, they will often feel bad for no real reason.
Overgeneralization and Labelling - Individuals who engage in this thought process may see a single negative event as a constant pattern of defeat. In its most extreme form, this thinking attaches a negative label to oneself or others.
Jumping to Conclusions - This comprises of imagining negative reactions from others and imagining negative outcomes with no basis in fact.
Personalization and Blame - Most common in the workplace, this happens when a person holds oneself, someone else, or something else entirely accountable for an event. This often leads to making heavy or unrealistic demands on oneself and others.
Unfortunately, negativity is a hard cycle to break, and whilst the best option is to not let negativity begin in the first place, more often than not, something has happened, either at home or in the workplace that you as a manager may not have been made aware of. As you can see in the cycle below, Negative Behaviour is included, and this is where you come in. Through assessment and managing the behaviour hopefully the employee will turn their negativity around.
The first step of assessment is to observe and quantify the negative employee’s behaviour, through observational data, such as examples of their negative behaviour, and through accurate quantifiable accounts, for example, the employee telling three co-workers about how nothing is right in the workplace or how new methods are a waste of time.
Whilst this requires preparation and time, it is important to carry out, as when confronted, the negative employee may discount your observations by saying they were been joking or you misunderstood what they said. It’s imperative that the negative employee understands the impact they are having on their fellow co-workers and due to their negativity they are bringing the mood and optimism down in the office.
Secondly, ask your employee what is causing the negativity at work. You cannot assess an individual’s situation until you speak to them directly and listen to their complaints and concerns. When managing a large team, it can be difficult to give time to each employee, and generally workers repeat negative sentiments if they feel they are not being listened to.
If the employee’s concerns are legitimate workplace issues, such as an increase in workload or threats of downsizing, you may be able to help solve the apprehension by spreading the amount of work, or through explanation of developments at higher management, and asking the employee for their cooperation and patience.
An employee’s negativity at work may not actually stem from issues in the office, but from problems at home. Ask your employee is something negative has happened at home, and whilst you’re not a therapist or counsellor, taking the initiative to ask allows you to offer sympathy or empathy. Showing this interest also allows the employee to see your concern for their welfare, however do try and encourage the employee to keep personal issues from affecting their performance at work.
MANAGE THE BEHAVIOUR
Now you have assessed where the negativity is stemming from, it’s time to manage the behaviour of the employee to try and encourage a more positive outlook.
Firstly affirm the company’s core beliefs and advise the negative employee of the mission of the business, important values the company adopts and goals the organisation is trying to achieve. Clearly articulate how the employee’s negative attitude undermines these core beliefs, and that a change is necessary and imperative to the success of both the individual and the company.
Next, develop an action plan and give the negative employee a goal to work towards. If the employee has a problem with a co-worker, company plan or situation, ask to hear something positive they may find as well. Instead of always focusing on the bad, it’s necessary to focus on the good and have a positive outlook. Establish a reasonable amount of time for a behavioural change and put a date in the diary to discuss progress. Together, talk about the changes you need to see and certain benchmarks that will demonstrate this, before giving your employee the space to accomplish these changes.
Hopefully assessing and managing an employee’s negative behaviour will lead to improved productivity in the workplace, and a happier team member. It’s important to keep an eye on an employee’s attitude in the workplace, even after you have seen a positive change, as old habits tend to die hard.
If discussions and plans don’t resolve any problems with negativity and an employee’s bad attitude continues, it may be time to let them go. Through your initial considerations, you have gone the extra mile in addressing the source of an employee’s unhappiness and creating a compatible work environment, however if this doesn’t work it is especially important to remove them from your team as each staff member’s cultural impact is felt heavily across an organisation.
The contents of this article are necessarily expressed in broad terms and limited to general information rather than detailed analyses or legal advice. Specialist professional advice should always be obtained to address legal and other issues arising in specific contexts.