7 Easy Tips For Coaching An Employee With A Negative Attitude  

If you’ve been a manager for a while, you’ve no doubt had negative employees on your team. As you’ve probably experienced, dealing with such team members can be tricky, especially if their negativity is subtle and not overt.

Since negative employees can have an adverse effect on the rest of the team, and can also turn customers against a company, it’s important to nip any negativity in the bud.

Fortunately, an employee with a bad attitude can change if you provide them with the proper guidance. Coaching an employee with a negative attitude is a managerial skill that you learn over time. To help you along, I’ve compiled a list of coaching tips below.

Why Do Managers Avoid Coaching Negative Team Members?

coaching employee with negative attitude

Despite the fact that negative team members can be bad for a team’s morale and for productivity in general, managers often avoid dealing with this problem. There are multiple reasons why managers may avoid coaching an employee with a negative attitude.

If you’re in such a position, understanding your avoidance behavior is the first step in changing your managerial approach. Here are a few common reasons why managers don’t like to deal with negative employees.

Negativity Is Largely a Subjective Matter

One of the main reasons why you may be avoiding dealing with negativity in the workplace is that it can be tricky to objectively prove.

While you may have seen an employee roll their eyes during team meetings or have had to deal with their sulky behavior on a daily basis, objectively proving their negative attitude can be difficult.

Read More: How to Improve Your Bottom Performers: 7 Tips to Boost Workplace Productivity

Negativity Can be Difficult To Pinpoint

Another reason why you may be sidestepping the issue is that you may be second-guessing yourself. Since negative employees can sometimes be very subtle in the way they show their displeasure, you may be wondering whether you’re perhaps too sensitive as a manager or blowing things out of proportion.

Managers Lack the Skills

Dealing with subjective matters such as negativity in the workplace is often something that managers aren’t trained for.

In addition, employee guidelines and company policies typically don’t deal with such subjective, and seemingly unimportant, matters either. Simply not knowing how to deal with the situation is therefore another common reason why managers avoid coaching negative employees.

It Is Not a Priority

Another reason why managers may choose not to deal with negative team members is that they don’t regard the issue as important enough.

In traditional work environments, the company culture may dictate that subjective issues such as negativity may be overlooked. Addressing a team member about their negative attitude may be regarded as unnecessary or unprofessional.

Why Do Managers Need to Worry About Negative Workers?

coaching employee with negative attitude

While it may be tempting to ignore a negative employee on your team, I strongly advise that you deal with the matter sooner rather than later. As is the case with all idioms, there is a lot of truth in the concept that a rotten apple spoils the bunch.

A negative team member adversely affects a team in many ways. Even if their negativity doesn’t rub off on other members, it will decrease a team’s morale.

If the team member is in a client-facing role, the attitude of clients toward the company can also be negatively affected. The company may even lose clients. So, in the end, negativity amongst employees directly impacts a business’s productivity and profitability. Also, negativity doesn’t make for a happy work environment.

Read More: Writing Up a Passive-Aggressive Employee: 10 Best Strategies to Handle Them

Ways To Resolve Attitude Problems in the Workplace

Now that I have explained the importance of dealing with negativity, my focus will now fall on how to tell an employee they need to improve their attitude.

1. Lead by Example

While this isn’t only a leadership style you should exhibit when there’s negativity in your team, leading by example can be effective when coaching negative team members.

First, you need to take an objective look at your management style and decisions and make sure that your actions and attitude are not perhaps engendering negativity in your team.

You should consider whether you’re fair in your expectations of your team and whether you provide them with enough support and incentives. And even more importantly, are they being paid adequately for their work?

Also, double-check your own attitude as a manager. Are you a positive leader who inspires the same outlook in the people who work under you?

2. Do Your Homework

Before you have a kneejerk reaction and accuse one of your team members of an entitlement attitude in the workplace, first ask around about the employee.

You can chat with coworkers who are close to them, or with previous managers. Is this negative attitude perhaps an inherent part of the employee’s personality?

It’s a good idea to gain a more holistic understanding of who the employee is before you start coaching them since doing so will determine how you approach the whole process.

If the employee is having health problems, or perhaps going through a sticky divorce, you can provide adequate support to help them through these tough times.

3. Have a Talk

While you may dread having an honest conversation with the employee, this is a step you, unfortunately, cannot skip. You first want to let the employee know that you’ve picked up on their behavior and second, you want to give them a chance to provide you with some insight into their motivations.

When you introduce the topic, ensure that you remain as objective as possible, and describe the actions of the employee as opposed to climbing into their character. You can, for instance, state you’ve noticed that they tend to have a lot of objections whenever you initiate new ideas or that they tend to isolate themselves from the rest of the team.

This type of approach will be far more conducive to a two-way dialogue than accusing the employee of having a negative attitude.

4. Listen and Respond To Their Side of the Story

coaching employee with negative attitude

When you’re having a discussion with the employee, allow them to speak and express themselves. Doing so will provide the employee with an opportunity to blow off some steam, which may reduce some of their negativity to start with. Perhaps all they need is to voice their frustration for once with a person who has authority.

Second, you want to establish why the employee is acting the way they do so that you can address the root cause of the problem. Questions to ask an employee with a bad attitude can include asking them how they feel about their job, their fellow team members, and your management style.

You may even find that the employee is not aware that they have been acting in a negative way. Let the employee know throughout the conversation that you’re listening by providing feedback and acknowledging their feelings.

5. Motivate the Employee

One of the best ways to turn a person’s attitude around is to motivate them. While you don’t want to tell the employee they’re one of your best team members when they’re not, you can highlight their unique strengths.

Ask the employee about their career aspirations and think of creative ways in which the employee can work towards attaining their goals.

It’s important that their personal development plan excites them and includes challenging yet attainable goals. Once an employee feels that coming to work is not just for survival but part of their journey toward realizing their dreams, they are bound to feel more energized and happier.

Read More: 8 Tips for Dealing With Passive Employees to Promote Workplace Productivity

6. Set Measurable Goals

Apart from establishing personal development goals for the employee, you also need to revisit your expectations of them and should communicate these clearly.

It may be a good idea to discuss expected standards when it comes to attitudes in the workplace and to include these in the employee’s performance management process.

It’s important that you get the employee on board and that they fully understand the effect that their negative behavior is having on the rest of the team. To provide the employee with the necessary support, try to establish measurable goals when it comes to improving their attitude.

For instance, when they make positive contributions to the team by, for instance, picking up a sick member’s overtime shift, it should be noted in the employee’s performance review.

7. Establish Regular Communication Sessions

coaching employee with negative attitude

Chances are that if you only have a once-off chat with the employee, their attitude will not change in the long run. As is the case with most other changes in life, you will need to consistently work with them to change their behavior at work.

This means that you will need to establish regular feedback sessions with the employee and that you will need to closely monitor their performance.

Since you may not always be available to coach the employee, it may be a good idea to provide them with a mentor or to pair them a more senior team member who can guide their behavior on a daily basis.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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