From Whinging and Whining to Winning Attitudes

A colleague asked me recently what could be done to help a staff member move from a whinging and whining attitude to a winning one and I had no ready answer. I thought later of managers I’d talked to over the years, who said that while ‘people management’ can be the most rewarding aspect of a managerial role, at times it can be most frustrating, difficult and draining. A common observation from managers is that dealing with staff with negative attitudes and a black hat view of everything in the workplace, can be most difficult thing to deal with. Another oft-made observation is that the effect of such a person on other employees can be widespread and devastating.

Have you ever heard managers say that when a particular staff member left (one with negative attitudes), the ‘atmosphere’ in the workplace improved markedly and the remaining staff were happier? The difficulty with a situation like this is that often the negative employee has no idea they sound and are viewed as negative; nor are they aware that they have had any detrimental effect on colleagues or the workplace. Equally challenging is when other employees know a colleague is negative, know the effect it has on them and others, and they look to management to sort it, in some way. Sometimes employees feel they can’t confront a negative colleague directly and therefore look to their manager to do so.

So what may make an individual be negative, whinging and whinging in the workplace? Attitude is such a personal thing and how people view the world and their place in it, is shaped by all of their life experiences and their responses to those situations. Individuals carry their ‘own baggage’ with them, wherever they go.

In the workplace, particular events may trigger negative attitudes. For example, if an employee’s personal values are at odds with the organisation’s values, then the incongruence between the two can cause stress and tensions for both parties. If an organisation has been through constant change (of direction, processes, policy, structure, roles), this may leave some employees feeling overwhelmed, or powerless and angry, at things they can’t change, control or agree with. If an organisation has changed so much from ‘how it used to be’, then some employees may feel ongoing, unresolved grief and loss.

At a personal level, some employees who have grown tired, bored or unhappy with their role and the work they do, may want to leave, but may feel too fearful to do so. This could be due to a lack of qualifications and an unwillingness to get any; being fearful about using technology; a belief they’re too old; a lack of self confidence; or at heart, they are resistant to any change whatsoever. Feeling ‘stuck’ may result in negativity. Feeling disadvantaged after a restructuring, for example, a change of role or status, may also produce a negative attitude.

Each individual has a different locus of control, which affects whether they will easily leave situations that aren’t right for them, or stay, regardless. Apparently 40% of the population have an internal locus of control (high self directedness), 40% have an external locus of control (low self directedness; reaction to external events or others), and the remaining 20% have a mix of both an internal and external locus of control. So, unhappy employees with an external locus of control, are more likely to stay in situations that don’t suit them. They may say things like ‘I’ll only go if they pay me to go; or I’ll wait until I’m restructured out.’

So what can be done, about employees who may be negative, whinge and whine? The first thing is to listen for their language clues. Language is a reflection of thoughts and a guide to how people are viewing and being in, their world. Listen for any self limiting beliefs (I’m hopeless at doing new things); self criticism (I never get things right; I’m a useless manager); blaming others (the policy is rubbish, developed by people who know nothing about the real world); a lack of self awareness (people can either take me as I am or lump it); smoke-screening (I can’t do what’s asked because of this, that and the next thing); and a lack of the big picture (who cares that the expenditures always exceed budget?).

Give specific feedback to the employees about their attitudes, as they may have no idea that they sound negative, critical, blaming, blinkered or bogged down. Give feedback about how they’re viewed by others. Discuss the overall impact they have on other individuals and the workplace. Provide one-on-one coaching to help employees identify what they could change about their personal/workplace situation and what they can’t. Encourage them to take action on what they can change and let go what they can’t. Support them to seek external professional support i.e. counsellors, coaches, psychiatrists, career advisors, to deal with issues that should be dealt with out of the workplace. And if the organisation has a performance appraisal system, ensure negative attitudes are discussed. Always seek support and guidance from HR advisors, to ensure that any approach taken with employees is appropriate, fair and legal. Speak to all staff about your expectations of wanting ‘winners’, not whiners.

Employees with relentlessly negative, whiney attitudes are an organisational bug-bear and burden. Like a rotting apple in a box, the overall effect of one negative person has a huge impact on the workplace and productivity. So, don’t tolerate it – confront negativity, whinging and whining head on –– and model the winning attitudes you want in the workplace. ©


August 2005�

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