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Employee negativity: 3 main causes and only 2 can be cured

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in The Savvy Office Manager

Employees begin new jobs with a bounce in their steps, thankful that you gave them a chance and eager to please. Hey, it’s a fresh start.

But somewhere along the line, something made them change. The pilot light went off, and with it, their passion and productivity.

What happened? To be fair, sometimes it’s nothing the manager or the company did. Occasionally, it’s because you hired a person who is predisposed to dissatisfaction. They were miserable at their last job; they are miserable at the job you gave them; and they will be miserable wherever else they go.

For all the others whose alacrity has fizzled, here are three chief causes:

  • Too much work. Funny thing is if employees start the job with a heavy load there’s really no problem. You’ve told them up front what to expect, didn’t you? The trouble starts when the work incrementally builds. Employees begin to smell a ploy. They see that their hard work just creates more hard work. The next step, they rebel. Cure: If you must dump more work on your producers, make them aware that you are aware of it, and then pay for it. If you can’t pony up a raise or bonus, then perhaps give them some extra vacation days. But don’t let it go unappreciated. Whatever your reward is, make sure it’s tangible or usable. An employee who is told he or she is a “team player” will soon tire of that bland carrot.
  • Shift in job duties. When a person is hired, there’s usually a job description he or she bargained for. A driver expects to drive. A salesperson expects to sell. And a graphic designer expects to design. When you shoehorn in the other-duties-as-required, you’ve planted seeds of discontent. This worsens when those “other duties” now become permanent, time-sucking tasks. Cure: Avoid this type of delegation. Yes, you’re the boss and “stuff needs to be done, and if they don’t like it, well, we got a stack of applications from people who would be just too happy …” Hold it right there. What do you think will happen when you hire someone for her creativity, but load her up with data entry? As much as possible, let employees run with their talents—in the job they applied for.
  • Cliques. There are good cliques and there are bad cliques. A good clique consists of highly productive workers with a bounty of buy-in to the company’s mission. It’s essentially an exclusive club of talented hotshots adored by management, but abhorred by those who can’t gain membership (not good for morale). A bad clique is a peanut gallery. And a gossipy one at that. Either way, cliques breed negativity. Cure: There are no cures for cliques. Their formation is natural and unstoppable. They begin about three months into kindergarten and last a lifetime. Your only recourse is to try to manage the clique. Foster an environment that’s all-inclusive, especially during staff meetings and morale-boosting activities. Now, if only that good clique could comprise the whole staff.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. Philip Cheung January 12, 2015 at 11:09 am

Great piece of observation, Cal! You spoke the truth —too much work zaps anyone’s energy, even Superman’s. And I have seen people being delegated jobs which are well outside their job description, but unfortunately for the organization, there is a real need for the extra work to be done and they are simply not hiring enough people to do it.

It’s all about the bottom line and companies are quite prepared to pizz their best employers off in the name of “delegation”, almost extolling any kind of delelation as a virtue. “You need to use your powers of persuasion (to get other people do your job for you)”, I’ve been once told. And if I can’t cajole my poor collegaue to carry the extra workload, then I don’t have the “interpersonal skills”. OUTRAGEOUS, isn’t it? Thanks (but no thanks) for telling me how to do my job and teaching me the skills to pass the buck! I’ll scratch your back later!

Yes, there are cures for cliques. You need to get everybody under one roof and tell them in no uncertain terms that cliques have no place in an inclusive corporate culture that values team work. And no, I do not tire of being called a team player. I certainly do not want to run the risk of being labelled as the “loner” or “gossiper”.

Pope Francis, in the annual Christmas address to the Curia (the Vatican bureaucracy that runs the show), told his “board of directors” (the Cardinals) in no uncertain terms, in direct, blunt language what he thought of them. He attacked what he called “existential schizophrenia” and the “terrorism of gossip”, and was especially critical of cliques that “enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body,” eventually leading to death by “friendly fire.”

It takes a lot of courgae and integrity for any CEO to speka out! It’s not comfortable, but who said management is a bed of roses?

Cheers, I must get back to my creative thinking that I’m supposed to do!


Me August 4, 2014 at 9:56 am

Wow… great piece, Cal! I’ve been feeling rather negative, i.e. unappreciated, myself lately, and the examples in the article really hit home with me. It’s time that in lieu of teaching managers what to do with sour staff that they must take a more proactive stance by finding out why the change in attitude and/or productivity is occurring in the first place. Managers have an obligation to work with employees and to make sure they are happy, and they have the power to make that happen on so many levels. Heading off hard feelings and resentment from the onset and showing star performers they are valued with something tangible/usable is crucial, especially if you wish to retain star-quality productivity.


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