When Great Aptitude Meets Sucky Attitude

Written by Patricia Staino

Published on Apr 15, 2020

At some point, every organization hires a high performer who doesn’t quite take to the corporate culture. The employee’s frustration with various aspects of their work life—from managers to co-workers, from rules to deadlines—can manifest itself in complaints, toxic comments, and a negative attitude that affects your whole team. How do you deal with someone who contributes so much to the bottom line while sucking all the fun out of the room?

Some managers may choose to make an example of this individual, as a warning to others, but this is a questionable tactic. Such action could drive a top performer out the door, while turning their friends and followers in the office against the company and management.

Give credit where credit is due

There’s a good chance your high-performing employee’s primary issue with you and the company is a perceived lack of reward and recognition. We’re not talking about compensation, here. Rather, your overachiever’s impertinent behavior—seldom sharing knowledge, lack of delegation, refusing to ask for help in addition to the obvious snide comments or eye rolls—could be a sign that they feel overlooked and undervalued by co-workers and management. In short, their ego may need a little massaging.

Kudos should be thoughtful and meaningful

Take a long, hard look at your corporate culture and your organization’s reward and recognition programs. How often is an employee publicly acknowledged for achieving a personal or professional goal or congratulated for the role they played in a major client win? Are kudos handed out just once a year, behind closed doors, in the form of an incremental raise? If so, it’s time to consider if lack of public recognition is causing some grumbling in your workforce.

Either way, you’ll want to address the discontent immediately, before it impacts your team and your bottom line: According to LeadershipIQ, 87% of employees say they wanted to change jobs because of a co-worker with a bad attitude and 93% say they are less productive when they work alongside negative Nellies.

Reward in public and private

Dealing with a bad attitude in the workplace requires a one-two punch. First, you need to address the unpleasant behavior and put a stop to it. Then, follow up with appropriate and well-timed accolades to demonstrate that you value the employee and their contributions. The perfect solution to the aptitude/attitude conundrum is a productive 1:1 meeting where both the manager and employee can air their concerns and formulate a plan to develop a more positive outlook. Then, moving forward, acknowledging team members’ achievements in a public forum, such as a team meeting, will fuel additional, ongoing positivity.

The thoughts that count

Great ways to recognize employees include:

  • A shoutout at a team meeting, in the company newsletter, or on the team’s Slack chat
  • Choosing an employee who has demonstrated skill in a new area to attend a conference that deep-dives on that topic
  • Taking the team out to lunch to celebrate big wins by one or a few team members
  • Setting up a peer recognition program, where team members recognize each other for providing a helping hand—no matter how simple or complex the assistance might have been
  • Recognizing big accomplishments on your company’s Twitter feed (which is especially effective if your clients follow you)
  • Offering a fun tchotchke, like a button, tiny trophy, or lapel pin, that team members can collect and display at their desks
  • Highlighting achievements like promotions, industry awards, or conference speaking slots with an announcement on your website

The more enjoyable public recognition is, the more your gloomy Gus will strive to be part of culture.

When rewards don’t fix an employee’s bad attitude

Realize that while this approach may work most of the time, sometimes a negative, unhappy employee won’t cheer up, no matter how much you offer kudos. While recognition may boost employee morale, it’s no guarantee that your employee with the bad attitude will suddenly walk on the sunny side of the street. In those cases, returning to the 1:1 meeting environment can be an effective and private way to give feedback, reinforce that path you’ve previously set forward, and provide examples of bad behavior and suggestions for turning it around.

However, if repeated 1:1 meetings prove fruitless, it might be time to dig a little deeper—is there a personal situation that is affecting a team member’s work performance? Are they depressed? Or are they just not a good cultural fit for your organization? If you believe that is the case after you’ve exhausted all methods of mending the situation, you may need to call in a third person to the meeting—likely your human resources business partner—to discuss the next best steps for all involved.






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