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Alan O'Neill: 'A message for any disgruntled staff out there'

A negative attitude can drag down the morale of other workers, while hitting your own health and reputation

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A negative attitude can drag down the morale of other workers, while hitting your own health and reputation. Stock photo

A negative attitude can drag down the morale of other workers, while hitting your own health and reputation. Stock photo

A negative attitude can drag down the morale of other workers, while hitting your own health and reputation. Stock photo

You won't be surprised when I suggest that satisfied employees give better customer service, which directly affects customer satisfaction. That, in turn, drives increased customer retention. And, ultimately, that has a positive knock-on effect on financial results.

However, if employees are not satisfied in their job (now more commonly described as 'employee engagement'), then there are negative financial consequences.

As a customer, how many times have you personally been on the receiving end of poor service on the front line?

Or, indeed, how many times have you witnessed some of your own work colleagues dragging their heels, wasting time and deliberately missing opportunities for the business?

There are disgruntled employees all around us, and they will often go out of their way to do harm, or to get one up on their employer.

Don't forget that these employees also interface with other colleagues and possibly even with customers.

This person won't hold back from letting others know how disgruntled they are.

They may be overt in their actions or they might be passive-aggressive. I'm not scaremongering when I say that their negativity can be extremely corrosive in a team.

When conducting confidential engagement surveys, we classify employees into three groups.

There are those that are highly engaged and fully committed, who tend to be highly productive and will embrace change willingly.

A second group are reasonably engaged and do a good job. But there is often a third group that are actively disengaged. They are the ones that go around looking for others to join them in their negativity. They'll bitch and moan about everything.

Now, of course, we don't know who they are, because surveys are anonymous. But addressing this is not about 'who' they are; it's about 'why' and 'what' we can do about it.

Let's not forget one important point. When employees join a company on their first day, they're likely to be highly engaged.

What causes them to fall into the third category over time? Is it something the company has done or failed to do? Or is it something to do with the employee themselves?

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A Disgruntled Employee

John (54) joined his company 10-plus years ago, as a key account executive. In that time, he became a major asset to the company, regularly beating his sales targets.

As the company grew and his status in the industry escalated, a new position became available when John's boss departed. John applied for the vacancy, expecting to get it, but didn't.

The downward spiral started around then. He transformed from the effective and popular Dr Jekyll to a difficult Mr Hyde.

Not accepting that the skills of leading a sales team are completely different to those of selling to key accounts, he has turned on the company, and his new boss in particular. He does the bare minimum that he can get away with and resists every new process, initiative and decision.

Unfortunately, he has managed to convince some of his colleagues that his negativity is justified. But most of his other colleagues are sick and tired of his negativity.

They try to avoid bumping into him and don't take his calls unless they have to. John's own health has deteriorated as he counts down the years to his retirement. He has developed a bad back and a regular cold.

Steps a Disgruntled Employee Should Take

If my story seems one-sided, please trust that I'm just giving the short version today. Having met with John, I believe that in this particular case, he needs to look at himself.

In this weekly column, my usual approach is to suggest corrective change tips for organisations to embrace. Today, I'm going to deviate from that and speak to the disgruntled Johns, and offer three possible options.

Option One: do nothing

If you select this option, be very careful. I'm afraid the organisation always comes first and, therefore, it should not be expected to carry passengers. Even though John is a great salesperson, his negative impact on the business is greater than his value. So taking this option might well end in tears, and a possible P45.

Option Two: leave the company

If you think that you cannot adapt and accept the new reality of your situation, then perhaps it's time to move on.

And I do appreciate that sometimes the right answer is to leave.

If you stay and don't change, you run the risk of ostracising yourself, ruining your reputation and possibly your health.

However, assuming you get a new job, won't you have to change and adapt to a new reality there too? You will be on tenterhooks during your probation period, until your appointment is confirmed.

Do you think you could possibly apply that same willingness to adapt with your current employer? If so, then consider option three.

Option Three: stay and adapt

As blunt as this sounds, go for a long walk, come back and get over the fact that you didn't get the job.

Seek clarity and feedback on why you didn't, and work hard to accept it. People don't deliberately go to work to do a bad job, and neither do you.

Remember what made you a great salesperson. Be proud of your other talents and be the best you can be.

And if you feel strong enough, surprise your boss and offer an olive branch.

Choose your attitude - don't let it choose you.

Employers: you're not completely off the hook this week. Far too often, employers get it badly wrong, and handle such scenarios with bluntness and a total lack of empathy and sensitivity.

If you have a John on your team, what has your organisation done to contribute to the situation? Remember that it takes two to tango.

Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie

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