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Bob McKenzie
Jax Daily Record Friday, Dec. 23, 201112:00 PM EST

The experts say...


  Are bad employee
attitudes a reflection of the worker or of the environment?
How can employees avoid/deal with the bad attitude of a co-worker? Are there repercussions for employees who constantly complain in the workplace about others behind their backs? What is management’s role in curbing bad attitudes?
Barbara Tolliver-Haskins
Executive Coaching Solutions
I would suggest that attitudes, whether good or bad, are measured in the eyes of the beholder. They are judged according to the organization’s culture, values, expectations, relationships and traditional standards of acceptance. Attitudes are a reflection of the organization’s total environment — workers, leaders and top executives. Bad attitudes may signal needs that are not being met. They should never be ignored. The best way to avoid the bad attitudes of co-workers is to be an exemplary role model, focus on positive conversations and avoid reinforcing negative behaviors. I always encourage clients to take a look within first to ensure that they have done all they can do to bring out the best in others. Facilitating good relationships is a constant journey. The supervisor is the best resource when all else fails. Yes, these employees will find themselves missing promotions, isolated by their peers and the last person (if invited at all) to social gatherings outside of work. Employees should make every effort not to be pulled into negative conversations about others at work. Peer pressure is difficult, but employees who work hard to avoid negative gossip will be better positioned to be beneficiaries of trusting, meaningful relationships in the work environment Managers set the standards by addressing negative behaviors as quickly as possible.
Coming from a different perspective, I firmly believe that managers owe all employees the opportunity to be successful in a non-threatening work environment. Sometimes, employees with excellent skills sets and experience feel that it is OK to allow bad attitudes to surface. Regardless of the parties involved, bad attitudes should be deemed unacceptable and addressed immediately.
Bob McKenzie
There is a lot of pressure on everyone right now, so it’s hard to say. An employee can be seen as a complainer, while inconsistencies in management practices may cause people to speak up about perceived injustices. Employers are mostly doing whatever they can and while most employees are staying quiet, the one who speaks up is given the “bad attitude” label. Increased stress equals shorter tempers on both sides. The complainer needs an audience. Without an audience, the complainer has no cause to fight for. All employees should take stock of the positive things about the work environment and not get caught up in the negative influences of their co-worker(s). Although it may be difficult, employees should just walk away or tell the person they do not want to hear what the nattering nabob of negativity has to say. Allowing bad behavior can have a devastating effect on morale. Management must insist the employee suggest solutions to his/her issues. Give the employee a chance to improve by telling the employee to stop the negative behavior or termination will result. If the employee’s negative behavior continues, management must follow through to rid itself of the cancer. Employees are watching management’s actions. Failure to act is a sign of poor management. Openly communicating plans to employees is the best way to curb attitudes. Also, management should never use the term “bad attitude” when describing an employee’s bad behavior. It is too subjective and open for interpretation. A bad attitude manifests itself through other measurable or observable actions, such as poor performance, unacceptable attendance or disruptive behavior. Management must set standards. When an employee violates the standards, management should address the violations.
Suzanne Montgomery
Management Psychologist
Montgomery, Copley & Associates
Both. Recent psychological theory holds that individuals are hard-wired toward an attitude of either hostility or agreeableness, so it seems that there are some unfortunate individuals who are prone toward hostility, or seeing things negatively, whether it be a genetic attribute or one that is formed very early in childhood. These individuals are generally unhappy no matter where they are and, unfortunately, that unhappiness can spread to others.
At the same time, we all know that there are some work environments that are negative because senior leaders in the organization just don’t seem to care about whether or not the employees are happy.
An unfortunate truth is that we cannot ever make another person change. However, an employee can deal with the bad attitude of a co-worker through the use of the technique called empathy-fact-action. An example of this would be to say to the negative employee that you can understand their concerns and see that they are unhappy (empathy) but that you have chosen to work there and want to focus on the positive (fact) and request that future conversations be geared toward other things (action). I have certainly seen repercussions for employees who do this. In some instances, the other employees begin seeing what has been happening and begin to avoid or ostracize the complainer. In other instances, management has been alerted to the problem and has taken action to correct things, up to and including dismissal of the complaining employee. And in one situation, the negative employee was physically threatened by some of his co-workers. The first thing a manager can do to curb bad attitudes is to make an effort to hire positive people. A psychological truth is that the best predictor of a person’s future behavior is their past behavior, and if a potential employee has been unhappy in most of his past jobs, it is not likely that things will be much different now. Also, it is quite appropriate for a manager to talk with an employee who has a bad attitude and, while it is important to listen to what might be valid complaints, it is also appropriate to ask the negative person to change his or her behavior.
Doug Wilder
Wilder Business Success Inc.
Who caused the bad attitude, the worker or the boss? It doesn’t matter. Either way, stop it. If you are the employee, stop the bickering, the rumors, the bad attitude. They will kill your spirit and suck the life out of you. Create a good attitude for yourself. If you are the employer, stop it now. Don’t ignore it. Festering problems rarely resolve themselves well. Here are a few of many ways to avoid a co-worker’s bad attitude. You could tell your co-worker you do not want to participate in negative talk today, perhaps establishing a “stress-free, no negative zone” around you. You could reference your kindergarten rule, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or you could simply swim against the negative current and courageously support the positive. When you complain, spread gossip and bicker, you believe you are making friends and influencing for the good, but bad attitudes beget bad outcomes for everyone. It is easy to get sucked into that downward spiral. Stop the bickering. Forgiving helps the forgiver more than the forgiven. To be happy, decide to be good, find the good in others and celebrate that people are different from you. Management’s role is to create a “no bad attitude” workplace through three easy steps. Managers can create a culture of good cheer; inspire each employee to see how his or her work contributes to the mission; and give clear instructions, expectations and monitoring for the employees but then get out of their way. Thus managers will create an engaged, more productive and profitable workforce.

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