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It was Abraham Lincoln who said that “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” So what then does that say about poor attitudes in the workplace? Management comes with many challenges that can test the most seasoned business professional. One of the most difficult and frustrating challenges for any manager, however, is working with difficult employees.

A 2013 Gallup poll reported that unhappy workers cost the U.S. economy between $450 and $550 billion in lost productivity each year. It is critical then that leaders actively work to keep their employees happy!

Find out why they’re upset. They could be upset with you, their current job status or another member of the staff. It’s also possible that they are unhappy due to something unrelated to their time at work. Your employees need to know that they are more than just another name on the roster. Joseph Weintraub, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Babson College and co-author of The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business, says performance issues are too often ignored by management. “Most performance problems aren’t dealt with directly,” he says. “More often, instead of taking action, the manager will transfer the person somewhere else or let him stay put without doing anything.” Weintraub says that underperformance is like an infection. You have to treat it and help it heal, or else it will spread.

As a leader, self-assessment is vital in these situations. How much time do you spend with your employees? Do they get the opportunity to discuss non work-related issues with you or is that time spent only on reviewing project status and budget problems? If you are really keen to understand your team members, scheduling regular one-on-ones is a great approach. Spending some quality time with them and giving them a chance to talk out their thoughts allows you to see issues before they get too big — and in many instances allows you to cut off potential problems before they manifest themselves. Providing employees with a safe outlet to express themselves also lets them share their concerns, which otherwise might eventually worsen their situation.

What do you do when you narrow down the office misery to a single individual? Engage! Leaders need to be communicating with the troubled employee in a factual – yet neutral – manner. To keep a coaching session productive, a manager must describe the undesirable employee behavior in specific terms that do not further inflame the situation. The manager who tells her employee that he has a bad attitude, is moody, and is just generally unpleasant will only make the existing working situation worse. The better approach is to describe what a “bad attitude” looks like in neutral terms. Does the employee not return phone calls, miss deadlines, not show up at regularly scheduled meetings, produce inaccurate work, refuse to help co-workers, etc. All of these other descriptors of a “bad attitude” are more specific and less judgmental. Including some specific examples of undesirable behavior that the manager has personally observed herself is important for the credibility of the meeting.

Show them you care! And motivate them to care equally as much. A staff member that is invested in her work will naturally have questions, comments, or concerns. Having an open door policy and creating consistently accessible lines of communication will help your staff to feel as though their input matters (which it should!). If having an open door policy is unrealistic for you, it can be just as impactful to dedicate some time during staff meetings for people to voice or write down their concerns for a group discussion.

Lead by example. And make work fun. Many employers have implemented a strategy called “gamification,” which involves applying game-like concepts to ordinary work tasks in order to generate enthusiasm and create friendly competition in the workplace. I wrote an article about leveraging this concept a few months ago, and the principles certainly resonate across the present topic of finding the pain points of your employees.

Figure Out What Makes Your Employees Tick. One thing we can virtually guarantee: your employees are all very different. Some are introverts, some are extroverts. Some are adventurous and are energized by the unknown, others prefer the security of the familiar. Some might require extra guidance; others are much more independent workers. Some are probably fresh out of college. Others might be putting their kids through college. The point is, your employees have different backgrounds, are at different stages in their lives, and are motivated by very different things. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is trying to force a one-size fits all solution on your diverse workforce.

Remember most important of all; misery loves company! Create a solution in your workplace before the disease spreads!

By: Jeremy Felder

Dated: June 10, 2018

About: Jeremy Felder holds a Master’s Degree from Tiffin University and is the Chief Compliance and Operations Officer at Chase Receivables in Fairfield, New Jersey. He is a member of ACA International (ACA) and is certified and credentialed by the ACA as a CCCO, PCS and ACA International Scholar. Jeremy also holds a Board position as the Vice President, Office of Project Management, for S4 Infinity – an international non-profit organization.