Nalini Jones: One rotten apple spoils the apple cart

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 27, 2021

Those who have led and managed teams or companies understand the effect that one negative person can have on an entire team of hardworking, enthusiastic worker bees. Teachers know all too well what happens when one child in a classroom presents daily with a serious behavioral or psychological issue. Parents groan when they think about the teenage years: the whining and complaining, the negative counter argument for every bright idea that the parent comes up with.

Negativity spreads like wildfire. It takes just one eye roll or a particular tone in which a word or phrase is uttered to damage or deflate another person’s enthusiasm, confidence, or creativity. The news industry and reality TV has found a way to capture our attention: they continue to crank out negative programming, knowing that viewers are addicted to watching other people sink into filthy muck as they live out their depraved lives.      

Positive work and strengthening a business or institution on the other hand takes time and consistent effort. Keynote speakers who lecture on teambuilding and leadership are paid well to help top and middle managers navigate their way around that one sad and negative person on their team. Many companies invest sizable amounts of money and time into recruiting and hiring people who have “the right attitude”.

As a person who has worked in various leadership positions for over two decades, I have had the opportunity to network with many other managers over the years, often commiserating with colleagues about employee personality and work issues. Here are a few tips that I have gleaned along the way that may help some of you who are in positions of management.   

Managers are always tackling the problem of how to deal with the person who embodies a negative attitude, who also has experience or skills that are needed for the business. Companies are in the business of making a profit; they’re not necessarily in the business of fixing attitudes. However, even after we’ve poured money into teambuilding exercises and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s), we still find that one of the most difficult questions for leaders is this: how do I turn my employee into a human being that possesses positive energy? A good manager must consider his options. If he has an employee that possesses a negative attitude and this person does not contribute much to the company in terms of productivity, the answer regarding retention is somewhat straightforward. The complication arises when a manager has a high performing individual on his team who is also an emotional drain on his team. How can the manager maximize the benefits that this person brings to the company without hurting the rest of the team? One way to solve this problem is to isolate the individual and assist them to a project by themselves. Demand a high set of expectations with finite reporting periods and timelines. Negative employees with introverted personalities are often happiest working by themselves. The other option is to team the employee up with another high energy, high productivity employee – an employee who will complement and exceed the problem employee’s skill set and level. This competition will hopefully create motivation and focus on a higher level of production. Sometimes negative attitude employees need an ego check, and this is the perfect way to create a reality base for that person.

The other solution (which many managers shy away from) is to directly confront the negative employee, asking them about the source of their negativity. Give the employee a reasonable yet fixed timeline to solve their issues. The issue may be one that is directly related to the workplace that the manager has some control over. If the employee cannot fix their own problems, it’s time to remove that person from the team. No matter how high their individual productivity, it is likely that the collective team will produce a higher output for the company without the personality hiccups. Because each employee, manager and company are different, there is no one blueprint for every human resource issue. You are welcome to contact me for a few suggestions on books and articles on this subject.

Nalini Jones lives in Salisbury. Email her at