We know them all too well—they’re the employees who create gossip, talk badly about clients, pick apart others’ work, undermine authority and can always find something to complain about. These are traits that may go unnoticed at first, but can create a substantial amount of damage over time.

While every workplace is prone to a Negative Nancy or two, it’s important to know how to overcome the negativity among these employees before it spreads like wildfire.

Ask Questions

Believe it or not, some employees don’t even know they’re being negative—or, they’re just not aware that anyone has noticed. Give specific examples of negative behavior that others have noticed, and ask them why they feel that way. Everyone wants to be heard, so be sure to ask what their concerns and complaints are and how they can be tackled at the source. While many of the complaints may be legitimate, some may not. In that case, take the time to help the employee solve what can be solved, and explain why you need their cooperation on other complaints that aren’t so easily fixable. Once the employee feels heard and has a better understanding of why, their negativity may begin to subside.


Listening goes hand in hand with asking questions. Sometimes an employee has to let out some steam, and they need someone to be there just to hear them. Oftentimes, people will repeat negative sentiments in a passive-aggressive way because they feel as if no one cares enough to resolve the issues at hand.

When you take the time to listen, the root of the problem can quickly become apparent. It can also help the employee see that you are concerned about them and interested in them as a person. If personal issues are affecting them at work, offer sympathy, but ask them to keep those problems out of the workplace.

Be Specific About Expectations

Don’t use general terms when referring to a very specific problem. For example, if an employer says, “Your negative attitude has been made apparent to me, and you need to change it.” While that may be true, it leaves things open to personal interpretation.

Be specific about expectations by rephrasing your concerns. Instead, the employer should say, “You’ve been gossiping about David. From now on, if you don’t have anything nice to say about the staff here, please don’t say anything at all.” Go into the discussion with specific examples of their negativity, and tell them exactly how you expect it to change. This will eliminate confusion and hold them accountable for their actions.

Keep Things Exciting

Work can become dull if there’s nothing to look forward to—creating less than desirable dispositions among staff. Employee happiness is not all dependent on salary, benefits and other expensive perks. It’s about making employees’ jobs more meaningful, and supporting them both in and out of the workplace. Here are a few things to think about implementing depending on what’s right for your organization.

  • Support employees’ ideas by including them on business decisions and hearing their input. Collaboration can be beneficial for everyone.
  • Acknowledge accomplishments with a pat on the back or a “good job.”  A simple token of recognition can go a long way.
  • Be transparent by making sure your employees know the direction of the business, and that they play a vital role in getting there.
  • Engage with your staff simply by sitting with them, picking their brains, going out to lunch with them, or just enjoying them as regular people. This can help with employee engagement and retention.

Look at Your Hiring Processes

If possible, try to identify negative people before they’re hired. While this can be difficult, there are ways that can help.

  • Always check references before you dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Filling a position as fast as possible can set yourself up for failure.
  • Involve the staff in your decision if you can. Sometimes several viewpoints can help minimize the chance of a poor hire.
  • Ask tough questions about “what if” scenarios and past experiences. For example, “What would your previous boss say about you and your work ethic?” The quality of the answers can give you valuable insight into the way they work.

For more information, read our blog on How to Attract Quality Candidates.

Everyone has their bad days, but an employee with chronic negativity can bring the rest of your staff down with them. Identifying them and using the resources provided to create a positive workplace will be beneficial for the entire company.