Attitude: It’s Contagious!

Dear Anita,

I have a negative employee that I wish would get the flu and stay home from work! Her cynical attitude and pessimism is really bringing the team down. She does get her work done, but not without complaining. Any ideas on how to manage this “Gloomy Gussie?”

Donkey with umbrellaDear Eyeore Encourager,

An employee with a negative attitude can quickly become an emotional drain on the more positive team members. Misery loves company, so you are wise to nip negative behavior in the bud.

Chances are, your Gloomy Gussie’s attitude is a habit. She may not even realize she is coming across as a wet blanket. Here are some ways to encourage more positivity at work:

    • Smile at her (even if you don’t feel like it). Smiling is contagious. Try to beat the statistics: 30% of people smile five to 20 times a day at the office, and 28% smile over 20 times per day at work.
    • Encourage your entire team to find solutions instead of making complaints. In meetings, when Eyeore pooh-poohs an idea, turn the tables and ask how it could work.
    • Give clear feedback – and potential consequences – in one-on-one meetings. Be sure to let Sad Sally know that while her work output is satisfactory, a positive attitude is just as important.
    • Listen. It’s hard not to tune out Negative Nellie when she starts whining. But if you can get to the root of the dissatisfaction, you may just find the cure.
    • Praise progress. Be sure to catch her whenever she makes an effort, no matter how small, to be positive to encourage more of the desired behavior.
    • Keep your own attitude in check. When interacting with Pessimistic Patty, don’t roll your eyes (even inwardly but especially to other subordinates).
    • If things don’t improve, you may have to let this bad apple go. Just be sure to document specific examples of negativity affecting performance as “attitude problem” is too subjective, suggests this Houston Chronicle article, “How to Fire People with Bad Attitudes.”

“A healthy attitude is contagious, but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.” Tom Stoppard, playwright

Readers: Are you the carrier of an Eyeore or Tigger attitude at work?

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dave
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 13:16:29

    Usually, the bright and effervescent employee is trying to mask their incompetence with the actual job. They’ll compensate for lack of job skills by bouncing around the office, chatting with everyone and trying to become well-liked at the expense of actually getting any work done.


  2. C
    Jan 18, 2016 @ 10:32:31

    I am writing this for me, first, as a reminder of what I heard my Pastor say (when we were all listening): “When, you use your hand to point a finger (of blame) toward another, there remains 3-fingers and your thumb pointing back at you.” This way you know that the real source of the problem is not who you are pointing blame at. At the root of the real problem is you (self-management: Self-control / discipline). People cannot control people. Two things we will never have the power to control are people and time. These can only be managed, but not controlled. When you think of other people, do not allow them control over you by allowing them to have control over you thereby making their problem(s) your own. Someone said, “Your attitude determines your altitude”. You sing the first verse of the birthday song as you wash your hands. This may not prevent the flu but it will certainly reduce your chances of passing it when you shake hands. When you feel the contagion attitude coming on, sing to yourself, because Yes, you can allow yourself to adopt their same (or worst) attitude thereby helping her to bring the team down. Keep a song on your heart and keep your job while you watch her leave her job (and not the other way around)!


  3. Daivd Murphy
    Jan 13, 2016 @ 12:34:24

    i actually believe that she does know how her attitude is affecting the people around her. People like her do this because it breaks down the cohesiveness of the team which might affect the work habits of others, while she continues to get her work done in a timely manner. I would talk to her about her behavior and find out if it is something at home. If all else fails ignore her when she complains and smile as much as possible, as well as be courteous.


  4. Bill Holman
    Jan 12, 2016 @ 23:31:11

    Nonexistent customer service; as usual! Late afternoon January 12, 2016. No one ploys around except in the meat, produce, and bakery dept.!
    Many customers walking around not knowing where anything was. No one in customer service station (as usual).
    One checker only, several people waiting in line for that lane. The checker himself was not happy being there. He was extremely surly to the customers. His facial expression was just like his mood! I have seen him around that store several times, and most always seems to be in a bad mood which she does take out on customers.


  5. Garima
    Jan 12, 2016 @ 20:16:40

    Hi Anita,

    (Anita is my mother’s name too :))

    I suffer from a similar problem in my workplace. The difference is that my peers, with whom I have my daily interactions and lunch, are negative. It affected me for a great deal of time. I had started procrastinating work though met deadlines. I was very unhappy because they made me believe that this is the worst place to be in. But now, as I have realized the negativity is affecting me, I am trying to find ways to get rid of it. Any ideas on how to counter/get rid of this? I have tried encouraging them and changing topics when they start whining. Tired of showing them the silver lining.

    Thanks in advance!


    • anitaclew
      Jan 17, 2016 @ 15:55:33

      Dear “Anita’s Daughter,” You may have to take the drastic measures and decline lunch invitations. It is often hard to maintain a positive attitude if you are the only one in a negative group. Additionally, try creating a daily “gratitude journal” to end your day on an uplifting note.


  6. Robert Warburton
    Jan 12, 2016 @ 14:35:42

    My brother was taken advantage of terribly by employers and some associates his entire life. He lost his last job with a major employer in November of 2011. He cannot get a job now if he tries. People who are good at finding people that they know will not do anything except complain when taken advantage of will continue to take advantage of those people. He, I suspect, suffers from Asperger’s a type of autism that clinically doesn’t exist anymore. These people have high levels of functioning for an autistic person, but they suffer from major personality deficits. In spite of his knowledge and skills, he was unable to handle life problems. Could she be like that?


  7. Rose
    Jan 12, 2016 @ 14:27:15

    I tried all those things with the negative heifer I worked with and it made her turn her negative towards me directly.


  8. Nicolas santana
    Jan 12, 2016 @ 13:14:07

    Im actually looking for employment if any available thank you


  9. Keys
    Jan 12, 2016 @ 11:11:29

    I am working new to this job, starting in November of 2015 n there are so many side bar conversations right in front of me. So this post i needed to read today, very uplifting.


  10. Moonstone Mary
    Jan 12, 2016 @ 08:35:20

    I had a similar situation at a job where, unfortunately, they put the receptionist in the accounting office. However, she was not competent and half the people in the room were looking for other jobs because of her constant complaining and empty chatter (hard to do accounting when someone is blathering on about nothing). So I simply told my boss about what was happening in the room. The following Monday, I suddenly had “reception” added to my insurance and accounts payable duties. But it was all good because we found an excellent, upbeat receptionist within a few months.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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