Handling Difficult Employees: Mobilizing the Naysayers

By: Roxanne Emmerich

When things go wrong, they whine, complain, gossip, and backstab. When things go right, they whine, complain, gossip, and backstab. They are determined to be dysfunctional and disengaged, rain or shine, and determined to bring as many others down with them as they can. They are the naysayers.

Most workplaces have at least a few problem employees. That’s all it takes, of course, to throttle any chance of transforming your workplace into a kick-butt, high-fiving, “Thank God It’s Monday”™ culture. And if your workforce is small, one Naysayer can put the brakes on culture transformation singlehandedly.

You can’t allow it. You can’t afford it. That transformed company culture is about much more than feeling groovy. It’s also about employee productivity and profitability. It’s about the bottom line. You need to take three steps to get your naysayers mobilized — either forward, or out the door.

Step 1: Know the Costs
Negative, disengaged, difficult employees cost you money, and lots of it. Some studies have estimated that disengaged employees drain $3,400 out of every $10,000 in payroll.

A recent study by Watson Wyatt found that highly-engaged employees are 26 percent more productive than disengaged employees and that their companies earned 13 percent more shareholder return over five years.

For those who are unconcerned about productivity and profitability, the issue of naysayers can be ignored. But for those of us who run businesses here on planet earth, it’s crucial to recognize the costs and take steps to address the problem.

Step 2: Identify dysfunctional behaviors and how to address them.
Not all naysayers are alike. You need an action plan for each type. A short primer:

1. The Excuse Maker. An employee who substitutes excuses for results is not a team player. The cure: Establish zero tolerance for excuses. When mistakes happen, as they certainly will, the correct response is an apology and a plan to correct the error and prevent its recurrence. No excuses necessary — or allowed.

2. The Whiner. Someone who is engaged in a constant stream of complaints — about the boss, about co-workers, about working conditions, about the pattern in the floor tiles in the break room — is a naysayer. There’s nothing wrong with finding shortcomings. It becomes a problem when you divert your problem-solving energies into complaints to those who are powerless to make changes. The cure: utilize management skills that put an end to whining, acting and pouting. Ask for direct communication instead. Provide clear channels for employee suggestions and complaints.

3. The (Literal) Naysayer. This one is the Old Faithful of naysayers, the person who can be counted on to rain on every parade, showering every new idea with a half dozen reasons it can’t be done. The cure:  When the naysayer says, “We can’t do that because…”, respond immediately by asking, “I understand why we can’t. Now tell me how we can.”

4. The Gossip. There is nothing more violent and violating in an organization than workplace gossip. The emotional damage done by gossip destroys trust, and without trust, there is no reason for a relationship. The cure: Forbid gossip as a matter of company policy. Deputize all employees to shut it down whenever they hear it.

Step 3:  Have “The Conversation” with each and every naysayer
Many dysfunctional behaviors can be addressed in about 15 seconds by having “the conversation.’ The conversation can take someone with a crummy, destructive workplace attitude and turn them completely around. Here’s how it goes:

“I’m so excited about where our team is going. And I could be wrong, but my sense is you don’t share that excitement. That’s okay, because maybe this isn’t your thing. But if this isn’t your thing, you have to go find your thing!”

Take a moment to see what’s packed into that tiny paragraph. You’re excited, and you’ve noticed she isn’t. You validate that (“That’s okay”), and then invite the person to find her bliss — wherever it is!

You don’t need to be the boss or even in the same department to have “the conversation.” It is extremely direct yet exceptionally loving, because it demonstrates that you care enough to get them to make a choice between bringing their whole heart to their current situation or going to find a new situation that makes them happy.

Take these three steps, and you are well on your way to a powerful culture transformation. Can you really afford not to?

Author Bio
Roxanne Emmerich’s book, Thank God It’s Monday! — How to Create a Workplace You and Your Customers Love, is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestseller.  Roxanne is renowned for her ability to transform “ho-hum” workplaces into dynamic, results-oriented, “bring-it-on” cultures in a day.  Listen to the free 60-second audio with teammates each Monday to clean up the craziness in your workplace and focus on getting massive results at the link above.