How to Reverse Negative Staff Attitudes

Employees and Companies Can Develop a Negative “Aura”

Just as some otherwise talented sports teams are accused of becoming “comfortable with losing,” employees and senior management of some companies develop a similar negative persona. Sometimes the reasons are obscure or even unidentifiable. A series of small setbacks, one major corporate setback, or a management team that consistently sends (often, unwittingly) negative messages to staff are often the cause.

Staff and management do not establish goals to infuse a negative culture into their department or company. The predominance of negativity is typically insidious because it happens over time. Much like the culture of “losing” that afflicts athletic teams, including the feeling that the players know the outcome before the game begins, some corporate teams, departments, and companies unknowingly adopt this attitude.

At other times, the reasons are not only obvious but understandable. Corporate downsizing, with many employees separated from the company, often create negative attitudes among the majority of remaining staff members. Unlike layoffs, which imply (at least) that the company will re-employ the separated employees, downsizing contains no such unwritten promise.

Unfortunately, downsizing indicates the former employees will not be rehired, which removes the always important human value of “hope.” When hope is removed from the personal or professional equation, a form of “workplace depression” often emerges. These negative attitudes can become damaging to performance, teamwork, and goal achievement.

The key for management is to identify negative staff attitudes and, once discovered, take immediate action to reverse these destructive issues and behaviours. Here are some suggestions for managers to consider.

Reversing Negative Staff Attitudes
Unfortunately, the reversal of negative staff attitudes cannot be compartmentalised into a simple, neat, and technical answer. Humans tend to be complex organisms. There is little consistency in their behaviour and attitudes. Further complicating this issue is the reason for the negative staff attitudes or behaviours. Understandably, management may not care about the motivation. Yet, they must take action to reverse the condition.

Some combination of the following actions often cures the problem.

  • Be upfront and acknowledge the negativity problem. At first, this may seem like a useless or, at best, ineffective activity. However, remember two things: The staff is well aware of the negativity of one or more team members. Second, management attempts at being “subtle” often indicate to employees that they (management) are either unaware of the problem or choose to ignore it. Acknowledging the negativity problem is a critical component to its resolution.
  • Display positive behaviour at all times. Much like political candidates and stage actors, management, regardless of their true feelings (they may also be a bit negative because of downsizing and uncertainty), must publicly display total positivity. Employees should witness the positive alternative to their negativity.
  • Publicly identify any and all positive issues. Unless the company has already scheduled a meeting with legal counsel to prepare Chapter 11 bankruptcy paperwork, the business has many positive features. These factors tend to be overlooked during conditions that generate negativity. Management should be diligent – and very vocal – with staff to identify every positive aspect of the company and its products or services.
  • Recognise every positive contribution by staff members. Always a successful procedure, public recognition of individual employee performance and contribution can be as “contagious” as its opposite – negativity. When management faces a negative-oriented staff, the importance and rewards of public recognition of superior performance take on majestic proportions.
  • Encourage individuals and teams to contribute to decision-making. The popular term is “empowerment” but that is more appropriate to textbooks. When management gives its staff the ability to contribute ideas and suggestions to marketing, operations, or financial policies, employees typically respond with great positivity.

As long as there is a world of business, management will encounter individual negative employees. When economic conditions, business reversals, or workplace problems exist, negativity can spread to groups of employees or entire staffs. Management must have a plan and respond quickly before this negativity affects staff performance in the long term. No company can sustain staff negativity for long periods.

Using some or all of the above suggestions, tailored to the specific problems of your company, could give you and other managers the effective tools to reverse negative staff attitudes and the damage that inevitably ensues. Managers who adopt these techniques often find that superiors appreciate their efforts and results.

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