Negative attitudes at work harm everyone. The hallmarks of an employee with a bad attitude may not seem significant at first glance – gossiping and spreading rumors, tardiness, rudeness to others, reactionary behaviors, and careless work, to name a few – but the impact can be enormous. It takes just one toxic employee to spread negativity, leading to distrust among staff, decreased engagement, low morale, or worse. According to the University of Southern California, negativity in the workplace costs businesses $3 Billion per year because of its harmful effects.

In the end, negative attitudes cost companies money and damage employer brands.

Author and Forbes Councils Member, Raphael H. Cohen, says the toxicity of people with poor attitudes “inevitably leads to a reduced level of engagement from those around them. Reduced engagement automatically means reduced performance.”

These toxic people also drive away talent, and the companies that tolerate them inevitably end up with less-talented employees, says Cohen.

Why employers must address negative attitudes 

Negative attitudes in the workplace are like viruses. They’re contagious and can spread quickly, leaving untold damage in their path.

Employees with bad attitudes are a distraction, says Sarah Freeman, an associate professor of organizations and strategic management at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Lubar School of Business. “If people are grousing, whispering, whatever — being negative — they’re not doing something else, particularly something that advances the interest of the organization.”

Worse, the negative attitude spreads.

Research from Harvard Business Review (HBR) shows that all it takes to destroy a high-performing team is a single toxic team member. And in today’s workplace, where we depend on coworkers collaborating and working in teams, negative attitudes can be particularly corrosive.

How to identify an employee with a bad attitude

Sometimes, an employee with a bad attitude will stand out among peers. According to HBR, these toxic team members can:

  • Create unnecessary drama and distractions, sucking positive energy and creative brainpower out of the room,
  • Erode “team brand” with their behavior, causing stakeholders outside the team to be 2,000 times less likely to see the team as being effective in delivering results,
  • Undermine the values of the team leader and the company, breeding cynicism,
  • Degrade the team culture by normalizing bad behavior within the team.

But these bad actors are not always easy to spot. Sometimes employers have to make an effort and ask the right questions.

Uncover negative attitudes before they spread

The easiest way to find out if an organization has a negative attitude problem and where it may be coming from is to ask employees. Engagement Multiplier encourages the regular use of brief, anonymous surveys to understand changing staff attitudes. Plus, Engagement Multiplier offers a sentiment analysis tool to clearly label positive and negative employee feedback making it quick to spot.

Gathering feedback to detect negative employee attitudes can be an invaluable use of an employee feedback tool – ideally, it can signal early warning signs before things get out of hand.

But leaders shouldn’t stop at just knowing there’s a problem. We must recognize the issues identified, let employees know the company will take their feedback seriously, and quickly address employees with bad attitudes.

How to deal with employees with bad attitudes

  1. Start by being a good example. Leaders can’t expect employees to act any differently than they do, so we must start with making sure we are setting a good example. We should always be optimistic about our organization and employees – and reward positive attitudes.
  2. Listen to employee concerns. Instead of simply writing off grievances to bad attitudes, listen and ask questions. Take feedback seriously, address problems swiftly, and look for opportunities to coach.
  3. Coach employees who have joined the bad attitude bandwagon. Most people don’t naturally have a bad attitude, but it’s easy to get swept away by negativity. Managers should start by coaching influential team members who can help lead their colleagues to more positive attitudes.
  4. Part ways with negative employees who are not coachable and continue spreading negativity and eroding company culture. Don’t drag things out, which only builds frustration and can be costly, even triggering other employees to leave.
  5. Reevaluate frequently. Just because leadership has dealt with a problem doesn’t mean it will stay resolved. Even if the toxic person is no longer with the organization, someone else will take their place if the root of the problem still exists.

Whereas a negative attitude at work is bad for business, conversely, positive attitudes in the workplace will reward the organization with reduced stress levels, better productivity levels, improved problem-solving, better decision-making, and many other business-favorable outcomes. In short, the cost of managing negative attitudes at work is an investment that provides a healthy return. And just like negative attitudes, positive attitudes can also be contagious and spread throughout the organization.