How do you Handle Negative Staff?

21st February 2014


Negative people


We had an enquiry from a Staff Squared customer the other day about a problem they were having with their negative staff attitude ruining the overall happiness of their team.  Given this is a problem that all teams can suffer from, we thought we would share our thoughts with a wider audience in the hope that it’s useful for you other managers out there.

Their question to us was:

I am a new manager in an organisation in New York, and the people I’m managing make me want to jump out of my window (we’re on the 5th floor!).  How do I find out where the source of this negativity is coming from and fix it as quickly as possible?

In our experience the best way to handle negativity in any team is to understand the potential reasons for the negativity, and then address accordingly.  Here’s a few common scenarios we’ve encountered over the years and how to address.

Are your staff being paid a fair wage?  If everybody feels underpaid (and therefore undervalued) it’s unlikely any amount of good management is going to make them happier. There are plenty of ways to sanity check what your staff are being paid against the market. Look at job listing websites to see what similar jobs in the area are advertised at. Alternatively there are websites that you can check average salaries against and Google will help you to find them.  For example, if you search for “Average .Net software developer salary London UK” you’re likely to find useful salary comparison websites.

Does the work that your staff are doing suck?  If the job your staff are performing is menial and boring with no chance of a promotion you either need to find ways to make their job more dynamic and offer up room for promotion, or alternatively you need to be prepared to manage a team with a high staff turnover.

How do your customers treat your staff? Even the most thick skinned of staff will succumb to bad habits and general unhappiness if they’re constantly being hit with verbal sticks by unhappy customers.  What policies, processes or perhaps training can you implement in order to help reduce negative customer engagement?  Or perhaps you might need to address issues outside of your team in terms of how the overall company treats its customers.

Is the decor of the workplace perhaps too shabby and not enough chic? If the desks and chairs are broken, the computers are 10 years old, and the paint is peeling off the walls, your staff won’t be climbing over one another to get to work in the morning.  Easy options include plants, posters (but please not those “motivational” posters unless you’re doing so with a complete sense of irony). A coat of new paint is always a cheap way to spruce up a room.  When was the last time your team were treated to a pizza for lunch, or perhaps some snacks and coffee?

Is the company itself rotten?  If everybody knows that they’re aboard the modern day equivalent of the Titanic they’ll be spending more time screaming and looking for a life raft than focusing on their work.  If the company is actually sinking you’ve got a tough job on your hands to convince people otherwise.  Perhaps your team can help to turn the business around but you’ll need to have enough leverage to make such a bold statement.

Did your predecessor do a bad job of managing staff?  If your staff have dealt with mushroom management (kept in the dark and fed shit), they won’t trust their new boss by default.  You’ll need to invest time in team engagement, empathise with them and lead by example in order to demonstrate positive outcomes as a result of good management. 

Of course some people are just “negative nancies”. These people need to be met with on a one-to-one basis and you need to attempt to understand what their issues are and if you can fix them.

However tempting it might be fear management by singling people out or firing people will not yield long term results.  You’re much better off trying to understand the root cause of the issues at hand and working back from there.  Good luck!

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The Difference Between a Boss and a Leader

16th May 2013


Lots has been written on the difference between a boss and a leader, and there are very few people capable of performing both roles.  The above comic depicts a boss adding extra weight hindering moving the progress of the business.

The leader, in the bottom half of the comic is not, and pulls their own weight.  Other metaphors for a good leader can also be derived from the image –  helping the team with their work and being out front for example.

So you want to be a great leader?  Here’s some ways you can refine your management skills:

  • Lead by example. If there is dirty work to do, be the first one to do it when you have the free time to do so.  New employees need to learn how to take out the trash?  Be the one to show them.
  • Focus on situations, examples of behaviour and facts, not the person.  If you want to give praise or criticise, it should always be work related.
  • Stick to the facts: “Your ability to empathise with the customer is valuable”, not “you’re so funny, people love it!”.  Personalising the job is dangerous.  Some people think that it will build loyalty, and sometimes it will, but it also makes everything personal.  When you have to criticise something, even with facts, they will take it more personally than they should.
  • Keep lines of communication open.  Have regular staff meetings (We have CEO Wednesday the first Wednesday of every month here at Staff Squared where everybody gets to grill the boss!).  Invite questions, and thank people for asking them.  Give credit where credit is due.  Inform people of how appreciated their work is on a regular basis, not just at review time.  If you’re always talking to them, nothing will be a surprise, whether it’s praise or a pep talk about challenging situations.
  • Discipline isn’t bad.  Many managers shy away from talking to employees about inconsistency.  What they don’t take into account is that allowing employees to continue to perform poorly is guaranteeing they will be fired.  Don’t look at it as discipline – look at it as coaching, or a discussion about their challenge areas. Everyone deserves the chance to fix a mistake. Hiding it from them doesn’t help you or them in the long run.
  • Encourage ownership by delegation. Employees love a company when they feel they have some sort of say in how things are done.  It doesn’t matter how minor that contribution is, if they can lay claim to a piece of it, their work performance and happiness will be affected in a great way.  Ask for opinions on future projects, and whenever possible, take all or even small amounts of their feedback and work it into the system.  Give them small independent tasks to perform and take the time to explain why it’s so important.  When they do well, give them praise, and follow up in a week or so to show them the numbers and how what they did affected the business that week

These simple ideas are incredibly effective at bringing your team together to work with you to drive your business forward.  What do you think makes a good boss?  Tell us in the comments section below!

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