Dealing With Workplace Negativity

Friday, July 19, 2013 - 08:08

By Leon Gettler

Do you have to manage employees who are disgruntled with their job duties, with the organisation, or with management? Do these employees always look for things to complain about? Do they cause trouble stirring up discontent on the shop floor? Do they constantly point out flaws in every new initiative that management undertakes? Do they resist change? Do they leave you feeling helpless, angry and frustrated as their manager? Are people spreading false information about the company? Are cancelled meetings getting misinterpreted or are people reading things into emails that aren’t intended. Managers are often confronted with these examples of workplace negativity. They have to find ways to deal with it.

The Centre for Association Leadership identifies the different types of people behind the negativity: the steamrollers who come across as being tyrannical, autocratic, and dictatorial; the ice people or passive aggressive types who usually do not openly express their resistance and might even say the change is good and then not implement it or, worse, sabotage the change; the rumour mongers; the scapegoaters; the eggshells or overly sensitive ones who misconstrue everything; the micros who focus on the smallest, most unimportant details and finally, the pessimists who believe the world is an unpleasant place, and they do everything possible to make it so for themselves and for others.

Business Management Daily sets out the procedures for enforcing some sort of discipline when things get out of hand.

Still, some might say there are better and more constructive ways to deal with it. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Peter Bregman says managers need to first of all try and understand how people feel. That’s not easy but it’s important because it shows empathy and stops them seeing you as the enemy, he says. Managers should also find some sort of common ground with that person. And finally, they need to find out what they are positive about and try to reinforce it.

The Houston Chronicle sets out a few other tips: get everyone focusing on business objectives and working together on common goals rather than devoting time and energy to non-productive activities; listen to employee complaints to determine if there is a valid reason for the negativity; conduct all-staff meetings regularly and encourage candid participation and feedback from employees; ask questions to determine the reasons for the negativity; investigate issues that employees complain about or serious matters; such as allegations of discrimination or harassment; sponsor company events to foster friendly relationships among employees and finally, implement an open-door policy and suggestion box program.

Specialists say managers need to provide opportunities for people to make decisions about and control and/or influence their own job. They should also treat people like adults and not burden them with too many rules.

They say it’s important to make sure everyone is getting the same sort of information and to give people the opportunity to grow and develop with training, perceived prospects for promotions, lateral moves for development, and cross-training. They should provide appropriate rewards and recognition so people feel their contribution is valued and finally, they need to make sure everyone is aligned with the leadership and a strategic framework, including mission, vision, values, and goals. People want to feel as if they are part of something bigger than themselves.