How to Deal with a Negative Employee

We know who they are in our workplace – the chronic grumblers. The always-negative employee. These members of your team may have high potential for success, but they are also high maintenance.  Everything around them is broken, nothing makes them happy, and they seem to love to stir the pot and create discontent among their co-workers.

As their manager, you may find it easy to recognize these people in your company, but not so easy to determine how to deal with them.  This kind of employee is ripe for a Train, Trade or Free Agency decision. 

Since it’s no secret who the chronic grumblers are, it is well worth management’s time to determine whether this is a person who you should invest in turning around or a person who should be “made available to industry.”

The sooner you take the time to make this choice, the better.  Most chronic grumblers have the innate ability to spread their discontent throughout the workplace, and before you know it, other formerly happy teammates suddenly realize that they’re not as happy as they previously thought.

Listen to Your Employees

In having a one-on-one with the grumbling employee, and genuinely listening to his point of view, you should be able to determine if his gripes are legitimate issues to be addressed.  If his grumbling is unfounded, and primarily due to a half-empty outlook on life in general, then coaching the employee in or out is the only option the manager is left with.

In short, you want to help the employee make an honest assessment of his work environment. From his point of view, is it mostly good or mostly bad? No place is perfect, but some people are wired to focus on what’s wrong versus what’s right. 

Organizationally, fix what is fixable, while helping the employee understand and embrace the notion that the real goal is for progress (continuous improvement) and not perfection.

While there’s always room for improvement and change in every organization, sometimes it’s the employee’s perspective that needs to change. As Steven Covey taught, one habit of highly effective people is to “carry their own weather with them.”

Is your employee set on bringing positive or negative energy into the office? If it’s positive and constructive, that’s great as it will bring a productive and can-do energy into the office. If your employee insists on bringing a gloomy outlook and negative energy into the workplace, this will stifle creativity and enthusiasm and kill momentum.

Challenge the Negative Perspective

Make sure the negative employee knows that you truly care about his personal happiness and emotional well-being. At the same time, make sure he also knows that you truly care about the happiness and emotional well-being of all the other employees on the team too.  Establishing this understanding helps the employee recognize that while his happiness and emotional state are important to you, of greater importance is the entire team.

That said, critical thinking and constructive dialogue are always welcome, while negative thinking and destructive dialogue will guarantee that you get voted off the corporate island…quickly!

Have your grumbler envision his ideal work environment. Does he really think it exists outside the walls of your company?

Encourage him to look around and evaluate other options. Let him know that if he finds something that would suit him better, you will support him in taking time to interview elsewhere.

This offer should come from a place of genuinely caring about that person’s happiness. It also gives the employee the opportunity to objectively evaluate other work environments. Is the perfect workplace really out there, or does the employee’s attitude need to change?

Remember to Protect Your Team

No matter where you go, you take you with you. Most negative employees tend to face two personal challenges:

1) They are poor self examiners (they don’t typically see their own imperfections and deficiencies)

2) They bring their own gloomy outlook and negative mindset with them wherever they go

Since our goal is to attract and retain top talent, we as managers/coaches need to master the art of training our teams to communicate constructively and productively with regards to problems, obstacles, and inefficiencies.

We need to help employees embrace the notion that fast-growing companies became fast-growing companies because of how they view tackling challenges and obstacles while chasing a goal.

If your workplace is mostly good, but your employee is hard-wired to be a chronic grumbler who sees the world through a negative lens, then it’s time to part ways to protect the rest of your team

I’ve always said that I’d rather have an employee with a solid skill-set paired with a phenomenal attitude and work ethic, as opposed to an employee with a phenomenal skill-set paired with a poor attitude and questionable work-ethic (in other words…high maintenance).

If your negative employee continues to carry a gloomy outlook and is starting to spread it throughout the workplace, you must make the decision to make him available to industry where he will hopefully find happiness with the ever-elusive, perfect employer.

Remember, no matter where you go, you take you with you…and hopefully that’s a good thing!


If hearing the particulars of this story would help you or your partners, send me a note or give me a call: and (414) 315-0523. You can also get on my calendar directly for a free discovery call here:

My background

My career path started out at IBM before moving on to start, build and eventually sell two technology service companies. From there, I’ve been a global channel development partner, and personal/corporate achievement coach helping leaders and teams break through to the next level. 

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If you or your team needs help breaking through to the next level of performance, or if you have a friend who’d appreciate having access to me as their personal and/or corporate achievement coach, please reach out for a free discovery call or email me at

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Phil Mydlach

Phil Mydlach is a high-performance executive coach who shows people and companies how to break through to their next level of ability, growth, and performance. He partners with them as they lean into their edge to confront the fears that are holding them back.

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