Negativity saps productivity

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After nearly five years since my last flight as a private pilot, it felt great to get out flying again with an instructor. It was amazing how much past knowledge came back so quickly. That shows the power of repetition from the original flight training nearly 10 years ago!

And speaking of repetition… it seems that every time I’m working with front line supervisors and managers they identify ‘negativity’ as one of the employee behaviors they ‘put up with’.

When asked what they are putting up with, front line supervisors and managers always put employee negativity on the list. And the reason the leader puts up with it is because despite the negativity, the employee is often able to do their job to at least an acceptable level. Sometimes a negative employee is one of the top performers.

One of our clients relayed the story of their mail room. There were eleven employees working in the mail room of a large financial services company. One of the employees did his job but also was very negative in his interactions with co-workers. Finally management terminated the employee and the remaining ten employees were able to do more work, more quickly than the eleven had done previously. The negative employee was acting as a productivity drain on the rest of the work group.

What impact does negativity have in your workplace? Do you find it difficult to schedule two employees to work side by side because of conflicts? Do you notice employees going out of their way to avoid dealing with someone who is known to be difficult?

As a leader it is tempting to label the person as having a negative attitude. However most of us have negative attitudes from time to time. It is not the attitude, it is the behavior that is a problem. The behaviors might include speaking in a demeaning tone, always criticizing, talking negatively about other departments or coworkers, being abrupt with customers, being disrespectful, or not cooperating.

The manager has a right (and obligation) to address the situation. It can be simply by commenting and questioning in private, or if the behavior continues it might escalate into a disciplinary conversation.

Some supervisors and managers in a unionized environment will avoid the disciplinary route because they know that the discipline will likely be overturned in the grievance process. Effective leaders aren’t preoccupied by the fact that the discipline won’t stick – they still proceed because they know that at least the message has been sent that the behavior is unacceptable.

Putting Ideas into Action

  • Identify the source of negativity in your work group.
  • Think about the cost of putting up with the problem in terms of your time being wasted, customers not being serviced or employees not working well together.
  • Consult with your manager and the HR department to develop a strategy and to practice what to say to the employee.
  • Have the meeting with the employee.
  • If you notice an improvement, offer praise and reinforcement for the changed behavior.
  • Observe how your life as a leader gets easier and how the productivity of your work group increases without the negative influence.

When you tackle the negativity you will gain the respect of your employees and your manager.