||Mastering Supervision Section 2: Group Project|
|On-line Newsletter: Positive Solutions for Negative Attitudes|
How Penn State Human
Resource Managers Address Negative Behavior
supervisor, one of the challenging aspects of your job is successfully managing
and motivating staff. When a staff member that you supervise engages in a
pattern of behavior that impacts the work unit negatively, finding a way to
address and correct the behavior can often be difficult.
Our group decided on the topic of addressing negative behavior in staff
members because this is a problem that we have all faced. Sometimes the negative
employee leaves the University or moves to a different unit, but as supervisors
we need to proactively develop our interpersonal skills and take action rather
than hope that the employee will change on their own.
Negativity spreads when unchecked and undermines morale, preventing staff
from participating collaboratively with each other. To find out what approaches
have been used with success, I interviewed four experienced Penn State Human
Resource professionals to find out what strategies they employed to combat
Andrews, Assistant Manager of Employee Relations
Jeanie pointed out that there is often a
misperception about the difference between a "good worker" and a
"good employee". Jeanie
“A good employee exhibits behaviors that go beyond merely
producing a product or providing a service.
A good employee exhibits collaboration, teamwork, a civil spirit, and a
willingness to help others, including co-workers, customers, students and the
general public. The difficulties
often surface when an individual's actions, inactions or demeanor contribute to
an unhealthy work environment. Often
times that can be the most difficult issue to tackle -- especially if that
individual is a "good worker", i.e., gets work produced but has all of
the "negativity baggage" that comes along with it!
That individual, although a good worker, may not be a "good
Jeanie recommends role-playing and addressing negative
behaviors early on. This facilitates the awareness of the individual with regard
to how those behaviors are impacting the workflow, their colleagues, and the
general climate of the office. Jeanie further explains:
“Supervisors have often been effective in dealing with
those individuals by pointing out the difference between a "good
worker" and a "good employee".
Sometimes, if the individual is "getting the work done",
supervisors may be reluctant to address the issue or feel that they cannot or
should not address the issue. However,
to ignore the problem will likely result in an escalation of the issue and a
sense of growing dissatisfaction among the individuals who are contributing to a
healthy environment but seeing the unhealthy behavior go unaddressed.
It can be very effective to tell the individual:
‘You are putting me in a very awkward position as a supervisor.
Although you perform the tasks assigned to you and complete the projects
you are currently in charge of, the general atmosphere that is being created
because of your negativity and incivility towards others is truly beginning to
have a negative effect on the general office.
I want to tell you that now so that you and I can work together on
dealing with that so we can turn it around.
This is especially important because I would hope we could deal with it
at this early, informal level before it would begin having a negative impact on
your performance evaluation and your overall effectiveness.’
In addition, there are some courses through HRDC that can also piggyback
onto such a dialogue and action that can be very helpful and assist the
individual in a non-threatening way to possibly understand the impact of
behaviors and negativity.”
Addressing the negative behavior directly
and early on makes it harder for the employee to openly engage in toxic dialogue
and shows other staff that negativity is unacceptable. Ideally, it may also help
an employee realize how negatively this behavior reflects on them.
Morris, Director of Business Operations, College of the Liberal Arts
Jennifer, the human resources director for the College of the Liberal
Arts, stated that negativity conflict is one of the most difficult issues to
successfully overcome in human resources for several reasons.
Often the employee lacks the self-awareness to recognize how others
perceive their actions. When
confronted, these employees often do not believe they are negative.
The negative employees will perceive themselves as kind, generous,
nurturing people and are oblivious to anything that contradicts this image.
Because this behavior is a way of life for the employees, and was not addressed
early in life, it is very hard for a supervisor to change. These employees are
often unable to be objective, perceive the world as unfair (and any decision
that they disagree with) and will over personalize situations rather than seek a
In some situations, Jennifer uses role-playing where she will
play the role of the negative employee and the employee will play the supervisor
in order to help the employee see the impact of their behavior.
Role-playing is very difficult to do because the supervisor must be able
to customize each role-play using the exact words of the employee in order for
them to hear what they sound like. This
strategy becomes even more difficult with introverts who are very uncomfortable
acting a role. However, if the
employee is able to recognize how they are engaging in negative energy, and
desire self-improvement, role-playing can facilitate the self-awareness toward
changing their behavior. Jennifer has seen it work for employees who truly want
to improve their interpersonal skills.
Jennifer noticed that negative people will
frequently say, “I just have to vent” as an excuse to go on a diatribe of
complaints about a perceived unfairness. These employees force the listener to
hear over and over the same negative spewing. To curb this behavior, Jennifer
will say to the individual, “How do you think this makes me feel to hear
this?” The vent transfers the
negativity. Disallowing the vent will often curb the behavior or at least keep
it from happening around her.
Ricard, Acting Manager, Libraries Human Resources
Cathy has found that the high level of
communication in the libraries has minimized a lot of the negativity that had
been there a few years ago. She has found that negativity often stems from
employees not being well-informed and feeling like they are not part of the
decision. This culture of open communication starts with the Dean, who believes
in sharing as much information with staff as possible while also welcoming
feedback and suggestions. By
implementing some of these suggestions, employees feel they are important and
part of the organization on every level.
Nevertheless, there are always issues of negativity in every
unit. Unchecked gossip spreads negativity and causes many problems.
Cathy advises supervisors and employees to avoid devoting time to the
whiners and gossipers when they are complaining.
A supervisor should take someone’s personality into consideration when
addressing negative behavior. Valid
concerns are one thing, but those who engage in behavior with the intention of
getting others as fired up as they are about something insignificant are looking
for a reaction. If the other party refuses to act interested in the negativity
or gossip, they are less likely to continue if they see people are not
interested in hearing about it.
Fisher, Human Resources Manager, Housing and Food Services
Carolyn feels that the behavior of the
supervisors influences the behavior of the staff members. The supervisor should
serve as a role model by displaying a positive attitude and making clear the
expectation of how attitude factors into the SRDP evaluation. The supervisor
should point out the negative behavior to the employee as it occurs and also
discuss it on their performance appraisal to make them accountable for it.
In addition, the employee should attend seminars and professional
development programs, especially those that target negativity in the workplace.
Carolyn recommends that supervisors and
employees read the book, Attitude
is Everything, by Keith Harrell. This book gives tips that help a
supervisor find out what motivates the employee. As a supervisor, you should
make sure you know what this is and do it. Find out what the employee does in
their spare time for enjoyment and use this knowledge to try to make work fun. Personality tests like the Meyers-Briggs will help you and
the employee know where they channel their energy.
Heart to heart talks with the supervisor
or the human resource representative can be effective.
If you can do this anonymously, have peers write up how the “poor”
attitude is affecting them and share it with the negative person. Ask the
employee why they are feeling this way, if something else is wrong and what you
(the supervisor) can do to help. Let
the employee know about the EAP and that you are simply giving them information
about a resource.
With almost ten percent of workers engaging in
negative behavior, negativity is a serious problem in the workplace. Totally eliminating negativity may not be possible, but there
are strategies that do work that show the employee that such behavior will not
rewarded or ignored. Addressing the
problem quickly, assisting employees in self-awareness and verbalizing clear
expectations of acceptable behavior are some of the strategies human resource
professionals have used successfully. One thing that does not work is hoping
that the employees will “get it” by themselves as this only allows the
problem to entrench itself deeper in the work unit. Not every strategy will be
effective with every negative employee. The
onus is on the supervisor to find what may be effective and to try it.
This publication is available in alternative media on request.