How Do Leaders Shift Negative Employee Attitudes?

Let’s face it: Not every day on the job is rainbows and butterflies, even in healthy, positive work environments. And while one employee with a negative attitude may not seem like a big deal, negativity is often contagious. It spreads like a virus, affecting other employees and potentially leading to performance issues and workplace conflict. Knowing how to coach an employee with a negative attitude is vital to the success of an organization.

The most effective leaders know that shifting negative employee attitudes to positive ones can combat performance issues, inspiring team members to see solutions where they once only saw problems. While the occasional opportunity to vent frustrations might be enough to reengage with the work and eliminate toxic behavior, managers must be proactive in fostering a positive workplace environment. Left unchecked, cynical behaviors can wear down a workplace culture and have a negative impact on the morale and productivity of other team members. If it goes on too long, negativity can be very difficult to root out of the culture.


Keep up the positivity with these management and coaching techniques used to detect, combat and prevent negativity:

Detecting negativity

Your first step will be to assess the situation. Some negative attitudes are easy to spot, such as when an employee with a history of negativity becomes vocal about a workplace dynamic or problem. Other times, you might not know with certainty who is accountable for a general downturn in employee attitudes. These cases require observing the workplace dynamic and watching for telling signs.

Morale can easily slip when encouraged by peers or when employees realize there are too many elements out of their control. Look out for additional talks that go on after meetings and conversations between employees who feel resigned or unable to make a difference. Take note of performance levels, considering how attitude could be the reason for unfavorable ones.

Prove your inklings right by asking for feedback from others, which can identify or rule our external factors that may be contributing to the rise in negative attitudes. Consider your own role in employee behavior. For instance, are priorities aligned and expectations clear? Do your employees understand the organization’s key results and goals in ways that increase engagement? Do you recognize positive employee performance or concerted efforts to make improvements? Confusion and lack of recognition commonly fuel negative attitudes and behaviors.

Combating negativity

If you find that your employees are confused about priorities and expectations, the most critical step to combating negativity is to establish clarity. Leaders should determine three to four, meaningful, measurable and memorable key results for the whole organization. Next, make sure your employees are aware of those key results. In doing so, connect the dots for employees by demonstrating the impact each individual has on achieving those key results. Employees feel valued and tend to engage with their work more deeply when they understand how each task, meeting and project matters to the organization as a whole.

If you pinpoint a particular employee at the source, providing regular feedback – both appreciative and constructive – is one of the most effective ways to coach an employee with a negative attitude. If you only have the difficult conversations about behavioral issues during annual performance reviews, you can’t expect employees to improve during the ensuing 12 months of radio silence. It’s that kind of hands-off leadership approach that can lead employees down the spiral of feeling out of the loop and undervalued, getting stuck in a rut of negative emotions and performance issues.

Instead, provide feedback on any progress they make throughout the year, celebrating the positive steps they take – both big and small. Ask them for feedback as well so you can tweak your management style to better meet their needs and preferences. For instance, some employees may prefer a more formal one-on-one coaching session, while may benefit from interacting with peers in group settings.

Preventing negativity

Cultivating a culture of accountability  is the most important step you can take to prevent negativity from developing, festering and spreading in the workplace. Managers can help employees take accountability over the elements they can control, which in turn encourages all team members to stay positive, engage in their work and focus on solutions instead of problems.

When your company’s culture is about taking joint accountability for results, employees will refrain from engaging in negative behaviors like pointing fingers or playing the blame game. Instead of sarcastic comments and complaints about others’ shortcomings, employees will ask what more they can do to help their peers and contribute to companywide success. There’s no room for negative attitudes in this kind of productive, supportive and engaging workplace culture.

If you need help fostering such a positive culture, contact us.

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