Negative Employees Affect the Bottom Line

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Article by Jan Spak, Certified Human Resources Professional, President of Jan Spak HR Services

"In the long run, the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time." (Anonymous)

At one time or another, we've all had to work with people who make a difficult job even more frustrating. As much as we would like to avoid these “negative Nellies”, the reality is that working in a team environment makes that virtually impossible to do.

So what can you do when you have to work with negative people who affect your job performance? You can start by trying to understand what makes these people tick. Take into account that often it's individuals who have been working at the same job for a long time and feel discouraged because their suggestions have been repeatedly rejected or ignored.

But it's also important to keep in mind that everyone on the team is responsible for delivering the end product. Whether you find yourself in the role of project leader or a team member working along side such a person, you can do your part to enhance their value to the team. Here are some things you can do to help a negative employee be more productive.

  1. Look Beyond the Obvious.With every person who has a negative outlook, there is often a painful history of pent-up anxieties and resentment. It's tempting to jump to the conclusion that negative people go out of their way to be difficult, but the truth is that they often can't help but see the potential downside to everything they encounter because they have experienced defeat so many times in the past. As a result, they feel that life is easier if they prepare for the worst rather than getting their hopes up only to have them dashed.You will find pessimists are generally very vocal about what they feel will not work. This is because they are often compelled to protect others from that familiar acquaintance of theirs – disappointment. If you find yourself losing patience with such an individual, remember that along with negativity there is usually a generous smattering of pain to go with it.
  2. Don't Try to Talk Them Out of Negativity.Regardless of how noble, your efforts to convince a person that “things aren't so bad” are bound to fail. In fact, they challenge the pessimist to persuade you on their point of view and to enlighten you with their sense of reality. You would be wise to accept the fact that they are not about to be convinced by your optimism and, rather than provoking further debate, just allow them to express their view.
  3. Focus on Solving Problems.Negative people can be a paralysing force in the workplace. You can count on them for comments such as “that will never work,” “we tried that two years ago and it failed,” and “forget it, our recommendations will just get ignored anyway.” This can have a smothering effect on enthusiasm, creativity, and any other positive energy in your workplace. An effective strategy for dealing with this is breaking down a problem into smaller parts and shifting the focus to individual solutions. Under these circumstances, even the negative employee may feel challenged to join in on finding a solution to one of the smaller parts of the problem.
  4. Give Them a Chance to Identify Potential Pitfalls.An individual's ability to identify possible problems or roadblocks can be an asset. After all, any good project plan identifies potential weaknesses and provides alternate solutions. Given that most negative people are very good at spotlighting what could possibly go wrong, use this to your advantage. Even though most of the setbacks they foresee likely will not happen, it is still helpful to have considered and possibly prepared for some of them. And because optimistic people can sometimes be overly impulsive, a pessimistic person can provide a healthy balance for those at the other end of the spectrum. Optimists have been known to rush into things with an abundance of enthusiasm and, in some cases, a shortage of analysis. Listening to the cautionary warnings of a pessimist can prepare your work group for just about any obstacle that you might encounter.
  5. Don't Rush Them.Pessimists tend to have strong perfectionist tendencies. Their belief systems revolve around fear of mistakes, unexpected bumps in the road, and failure. This is why they focus so intently on what can go wrong, and so often resign themselves to the worst-case scenario. Having to make a snap decision can be very unsettling to the perfectionist. If at all possible, give these employees enough time to consider solutions so that the fear factor is less of an influence on their contribution. Allowing them time to ponder solutions is much more effective than putting them on the spot.A big part of managing a diverse workforce is dealing with people who see things from a different perspective than yours. And even though it can be difficult, remember that you can turn negativity into a more positive force. A resourceful person will find a way not only to work with a negative person, but also to bring out the best in them. And that's what plays a big role in determining business success these days – the ability to recognise, develop and effectively use the talent you have available.

Employee Attitudes Affect The Bottom Line*

These results are based on a study of 100,000 employees from 2,500 businesses in 12 different industries. Not at all surprising, among the study's major findings is that work groups with a positive attitude are 50% more likely to achieve customer loyalty and 44% more likely to contribute to above-average profitability.

The study observed 12 employee attitudes that relate directly to a company's profitability, productivity, customer loyalty and rate of employee turnover.

  1. I know what is expected of me at work;
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right;
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day;
  4. In the last 7 days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work;
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person;
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development;
  7. In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to be about my progress;
  8. At work, my opinion seems to count;
  9. The mission/purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important;
  10. My fellow employees are committed to doing quality work;
  11. I have a best friend at work;
  12. This last year, I have had an opportunity at work to learn and grow.

In the past, companies have tried to determine employee attitudes by surveying their workforces using a long, diagnostic set of questions. The 12 factors listed above, properly framed in the form of questions, can achieve the same results.

*Source: Gallup Organisation, Princeton, NJ

1001 Ways to Energize Employees, by Bob Nelson

Author Bob Nelson is the founder of Nelson Motivation, Inc. and a Vice-President for Blanchard Training and Development, Inc. Mr. Nelson reveals what companies across the U.S. are doing to get the very best out of their employees--and why it's the key to their success. Including case studies, examples, research highlights, and quotes from business leaders, 1001 Ways To Energize Employees is a practical handbook full of suggestions for increasing employee involvement and enthusiasm. More Books

This article appeared on and was reprinted by AccountingWEB with permission from

Author: Jan Spak is a Certified Human Resources Professional with over eighteen years experience gained in both the public and private sector. Jan has lead the HR function within a multi-national corporation, a major law firm, a provincial crown corporation, a financial institution, and recently developed the HR infrastructure to support Canada's first national Aboriginal Television Network, APTN. She is currently president of Jan Spak HR Services, a firm specializing in providing practical HR solutions to business. She is a Past-President of both the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba and the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations. She chairs the National Capabilities Committee in partnership with Human Resources Development Canada – a major initiative with responsibility for developing and implementing national standards for the Canadian Human Resources profession.

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