For those in management and leadership positions, it's not a matter of if, but a matter of when you will come across a negative employee that requires your attention. Understanding how to manage negative employees will help make the experience as painless as possible, not only for yourself, but for your team. The key thing is to address the employee immediately before negativity spreads.
1. Do Your Homework
The minute you sense negativity in the air, take the time to learn about that employee's professional and personal situation. Are there any outside influences causing that employee to act more negative than usual? Or has this behavior been present since the beginning? Part of your role as a manager is to avoid writing a personal narrative about an employee based only on assumptions. Conduct your due diligence so you can address the situation effectively.
2. Conduct Damage Control and Document
A negative employee can do exponentially more damage to the morale of a team with each day that passes. Address the situation immediately with the employee. In preparation, make note of how the behavior is affecting the greater team dynamic. Document examples and use them to illustrate the problem in regular management meetings with the employee.
3. Model the Behavior
Don't let a negative employee drag you down. Lead by example and avoid workplace gossip about that employee. Everyone needs to vent, but your role is to set the tone for a positive environment while actively resolving the situation.
4. Reinforce the Desired Behavior
Did anyone ever tell you that management is just like parenting? Much like redirecting the negative behavior of a toddler by praising their good choices, managers need to give positive feedback whenever they see their negative employee displaying a desired workplace behavior. You're part manager, part therapist, part parent.
5. Know When Enough is Enough
You've done all of the above and still, negativity persists. It's time to put your employee on a performance improvement plan and consider termination. If all else fails, use the documentation you gathered during your exploratory phase to build a case for termination. And please, we implore you, if this is all happening in the first 90 days, part ways! Hire slow, fire fast.
Being prepared to manage a negative employee will help you act swiftly and effectively when the situation occurs. Having the confidence and tools to take action will earn you more credibility as a leader, resulting in a more positive workplace environment.