Negative employee = negative results

Discussion
Sep 29, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of the Dynamic Experiences Group.

I suspect we can all agree that positive people have a positive impact on customers and results. So why aren’t employees with a negative attitude assumed to have a negative impact on customers and results?

I have a client whose business was on a roll this summer and then, all of sudden, took a dive. At first she thought it was traffic or the local economy, but as she poked around she discovered that one of her employees was very negative when the boss wasn’t in the store.

The owner hired a positive, upbeat person in place of the negative person. Sales went up over 30 percent. A negative employee was killing her business. Not hurting it. Killing it!

Why are employees negative? The number one reason is because they’re allowed to be. We’re accepting of the behavior.

Why do we accept negative behavior? The number one reason is probably that an owner or manager hates confrontation. Most of us do.

Even if you go to great lengths to avoid confrontations, you have to ask yourself: Which is worse, lost sales or a confrontation?

Another reason we accept negativity is because we hate having to find, hire and train new people. I totally get that. At the same time, though, you have to remember how much that negative person with the negative attitude is costing you in sales. The effort you put into replacing that negativity will easily pay for itself, and then some.

Other reasons I’ve heard why we accept people being negative:

  • "They’re good salespeople." Yes, but they would sell a lot more if they weren’t negative.
  • "He’s a good person." I’m sure he is, but imagine how much better he’d be if he knocked off the negativity!
  • "She has a lot of problems." But it still isn’t okay to create more problems at work.

The good news is that most people will change when confronted. Some people will even be surprised they’re perceived as being negative. Many turn it around immediately.

Every now and then you get someone who either won’t or can’t change. Don’t wait them out. You give a final warning, and then they’re gone.

Why do negative sales associates often linger on sales floors? What are the best ways to improve an associate’s attitude?

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23 Comments on "Negative employee = negative results"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Sometimes they are related to the management.

In cases not involving nepotism the answers range from inability to recruit and retain staff to indolence to—as the author notes—fear of confrontation.

The best way to improve an employee’s attitude is to discover what is at the heart of the negative behavior. Sometimes it’s a matter of pay, hours or working conditions. Other times the negativity may stem from a personal crisis.

In a well-functioning workforce other employees are often the first line of defense. They can intervene in ways management could (or at least should) never think of.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

I believe the article captured the primary reasons, namely, the failure of management to take action. We don’t have an employee crisis when it comes to delighting customers. Instead, we have a management crisis.

My approach to employees is FIRE them up:

FIND the right people. Actively recruit for attitude as much as skills.
INVOLVE them. Create the culture and train accordingly.
REWARD them, including recognition for outstanding customer service.
EMPOWER them. Let them take ownership of the customer delight experience.

Warren Thayer
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

They linger precisely because of the top two reasons in the poll: Managers avoiding confrontation, or not wanting to go through hiring and training someone new. For the life of me, I don’t see how someone can be a good salesperson despite negativity. Best way to handle this is a brief but firm heart-to-heart with the employee, and quick action if they don’t turn it around. Personally, I don’t think “most people” will change when confronted. They may for a little while until they think things have blown over, but my experience has been that a negative person is, well, a negative person. Cut your losses early!

Don Uselmann
Guest
Don Uselmann
7 years 7 months ago

Second question first: there’s an old adage—hire the attitude and train the skill. Sure it would be great to find the whole package, but for me the deal maker and breaker has always been attitude.

As to why they linger, in addition to what is stated above, perhaps the boss doesn’t recognize a bad attitude when they see it because of their own filters (bad attitude). Or perhaps the boss does not spend time observing and does not have a robust customer feedback process.

Finally, if the attitude is poor because the employee doesn’t like the job then bosses should remember they will be doing that employee a favor by moving them out and on to perhaps a job they will enjoy. Although difficult and maybe uncomfortable, it could be a win-win conversation.

Frank Riso
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Most of the time it is a matter of misunderstanding. Store managers need to learn how to listen and how to respond to negative issues and attitudes. A small issue can grow way out of proportion if we do not “listen” and respond early. It can be like a fire and spread from one store to another it no time flat, so again we need to listen, be understanding and find a way resolve the issue, whatever it is. If we are to save a valuable sales person we must make the effort as owners and managers.

Ian Percy
Guest
7 years 7 months ago
Hard to argue with Doug’s article and he’s right, we do tolerate negative and other types of dysfunctional behavior because we’re cowards. The only nitpick is the statement: “Why are employees negative? The number one reason is because they’re allowed to be.” That is not “why” people are negative, they are negative before you have the chance to “allow” it. There’s all kinds of reasons, including that it does something for them that they want in that moment: Revenge, self-defense, inclusion, projection, whatever. We’re all “motivated” to do precisely what we do, good or bad. And don’t forget, sometimes the negativity is brought TO the store from another source and sometimes it is found IN the store. Here’s something to think about. Maybe they’re “allowed” to be negative because we’re negative too. It just happens that we “manage” our behavior better because we’re managers. The sad reality is that there are a lot of unhappy restaurants, stores and even entire malls. Is confrontation the answer? Let’s try conversation instead. Find out if the unhappiness/negativity is… Read more »
Marge Laney
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

A good selection process can eliminate a lot of negative people from ever being hired. Those that slip by and get hired can be rooted out by owners and managers by closely monitoring sales results and customer surveys.

Negative people aren’t typically great sales people, but they can sure sell their negativity to the rest of the team and take morale down fast. The best defense is early action to find the cause of the negativity. If you can turn it around, great. If not, cut your loses by cutting them loose.

Max Goldberg
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Negative sales associates linger because 1.) It takes too much effort to interview, hire and train a replacement, 2.) People hate confrontation and the threat of a lawsuit and 3.) They often go undiscovered. Once a negative associate is identified, holding a mirror to his/her actions can identify that there is a problem, and then coaching can frequently turn the problem around. Careful, written documentation is necessary to build a paper trail in our litigious world. Hopefully the employee will change and the paper trail will not be necessary.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

The article mentioned many of the reasons—the boss not seeing the behavior, making excuses for the behavior, not wanting a confrontation and/or not wanting to hire someone else. The confrontation is inevitable—either to issue a reprimand, a warning, discussing the behavior, setting expectations or firing the individual. Clear expectations and enforcement of the expectations are necessary for a change.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Negative attitudes have myriad reasons. As the boss you can try to mitigate them but at some point, you have to move on. I’m still surprised that my Should You Fire This Employee Quiz still has over 50 percent of bosses never having even given a warning.

As the TSA says, “if you see something, say something.” No one wants to work with or shop with Bitter Betty.

David Biernbaum
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Customers regard employees as being “the” company. You cannot afford to have negative employees, plain and simple. However, it’s not so simple to fire negative employees, or any employee for that matter, under certain circumstances. So when that is the case, you need to train “happy” employees to roam the business to be sure the customer is having a good experience.

It is also is very helpful for management to stay out of the office with the door closed and to be seen at all times of the day by all employees. And finally, please spare no expenses for whatever it takes to have all employees properly trained, not only for functionality, but also for proper treatment of customers. And one more thing, negative or hostile atmospheres do breed negative employees, so management and ownership needs to look in the mirror to be sure that negativity doesn’t start at the top.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Before I answer the question I first have to disagree with the comment that most people will change their attitude if told they are negative. Changing one’s attitude is not impossible but it is very difficult and the only person who can change an attitude is the person who owns the attitude.

Three of my favorite quotes when it comes to hiring are:
“Hire for attitude and train for skill.”
“Mind set over skill set.”
“If they don’t smile in the interview don’t hire them.”

Now to answer the two questions.

  1. They stay on the sales floor because management allows them to stay on the floor. They allow them to stay because they don’t realize the impact. They’re OK, and managers don’t know if the next one will be any better. They don’t have anyone to replace them with. They don’t make the time to go looking for better employees.
  2. Best way to improve the attitude of sales associates is to REPLACE THE NEGATIVE ONE.
Zel Bianco
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Find out why and if there are no changes, then there’s a saying that goes “don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out!” Life’s too short. If you are that unhappy that you are willing to hurt or kill the boss’ business then go start your own. You’ll soon understand all of the headaches that business owners put up with.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
7 years 7 months ago
Negative sales people often linger on sales floors because they are good at their jobs and aren’t seen by customers as negative. Many sales associates become negative when management/ownership doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what factors insure success. Management that does not believe in customer service, that doesn’t work very hard and is always looking for shortcuts is the primary reason employees go negative. No one ever started a new job with a negative attitude. They get that way when so many people want to infect the sales process with mixed objectives, poor communication and lousy follow through. I continually see sales people work long after “management/ownership” has gone home. If you really want to improve an associate’s attitude then work your rear off to get out of his/her way. Remember, your company’s success is directly related to sales. If you don’t make sales, you will have no one to badger. Sales people, like bartenders, are partners—they hold their business in their hands. When you see a problem, why not ask the… Read more »
Tony Orlando
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

The number one rule in my store is that employees must be very friendly. I have let go of a few over the years after one warning for being rude to a customer, and I’m glad I did, as others took notice of how serious I am about service. What else do most small businesses have today, as a weapon to grow or even maintain their businesses? Excellent customer service is a must, and nothing else can be accepted in my opinion.

With online taking a larger chunk of brick-and-mortar business away every year, it is crucial to have the highest level of service possible, which does make a huge difference in where consumers spend their hard-earned dollars. Nothing else to elaborate on, as this is number one in my book.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Management in companies, large and small, more often than not are reluctant to engage in a difficult discussion with a marginal employee. This is primarily due to the management having no training is this area. Further, if the manager does confront the employee, they may take just as negative an approach to resolving the problem as the employee is taking with customers.

The best way to deal with questionable employees is to work directly with them, constantly and consistently. You have to lead by example, as simple and outdated as that sounds. Address the issues that the employee has with the job, the company and other employees. Face the uncomfortable situation and it will become easier to handle when the situation arisises in the future.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Negative staff tend to retain their jobs until the manager has had enough and can no longer accept the behavior. It lingers because hiring and training is difficult and expensive. It lingers because we do not want to have a confrontation. Plus, firing someone, especially a person needing the job to support the family, is emotionally difficult. Once we realize we are losing business and credibility because of negative employee, the task of removal becomes less difficult.

George-Marie Glover
Guest
George-Marie Glover
7 years 7 months ago

Negative employees are most often management’s problem, not an employee problem. Unpredictable schedules, irrational expectations and lack of training are just a few things that instill employee negativity.

Some retailers go so far as to impose scripted sales processes that leave little room for sales people to freely engage customers with their own personal style and personality. This only serves to dampen one’s spirit.

Negativity is a contagion that will quickly spread if management refuses to deal with it. Unfortunately, some employees have the ability to present a different face when the manager is in the room from what they present to fellow employees.

Too often positive minded employees must endure while managers choose to ignore their concerns. Ironically, it’s then the positive employees who choose to leave for a more positive work place.

Sean O'Donnell
Guest
Sean O'Donnell
7 years 7 months ago
A decade ago, retail managers were the product of long-term dedication to the company. Most were hired internally. They had been working with the systems, procedures, and (most importantly for this article) culture of the company for a decent amount of time. When it came to management decisions, such as hiring and developing employees, they knew what did and didn’t work because they had been in the trenches with that company. The past decade has seen 10-20 year retail management veterans leaving companies due to pay cuts, layoffs, and disillusionment. This exodus has been happening faster than replacements can be produced, which has led to a lot of outside hires in retail management. While the skills are the same, the difference in systems, procedures, and culture can lead to negative employee behavior stemming from frustration with managers who do not have the tools to train and support employees. The fix is to invest in retail management and to get creative with ways to retain your veterans to build your bench. This isn’t just done by… Read more »
Kelly Cochran
Guest
Kelly Cochran
7 years 7 months ago

There’s chocolate and vanilla for a reason: not all sales personnel do well with all types of customers. You recently heard of the snobby sales technique being more effective in lux lines?

Kai Clarke
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

Camradaries, mentoring, positive environments and attitudes by all employees, all contribute to improving a team member’s attitude. It starts with a workplace that creates a positive environment, offers great benefits and incentives for everyone, and delivers on the employee’s expectations.

Shep Hyken
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

The attitude of the employee (sales associate or any other employee) is crucial to not only the customer experience, but the internal culture. To the customer, the company is only as good as its weakest employee. So, here are three simple basics to consider:

1. Hire right in the first place. Make sure the personality and attitude fit the culture.

2. Train for technical and soft skills (relationship building and customer service).

3. Move people that aren’t customer focused (with the right attitudes) to a non-customer facing job — or out altogether.

Gajendra Ratnavel
Guest
7 years 7 months ago
All businesses, no matter the size, should be in communication with the customer. With social media, this task is even easier now than ever before. This is usually the first indication of issues with customer service. Social media shouldn’t be a replacement, it should be an addition to more traditional ways like surveys, customer feedback, having your employees interact with customers and bringing that information back. When something like this is discovered, it may be a temporary issue with the employee as a result of some personal situation or just group dynamics, etc. I would just move them to a more internal role, and away from customer-facing positions until the issue is resolved. Let them know you care, and you are trying to help. More importantly, let everyone else in the company see the company cares. If after several attempts, the employee still doesn’t work, they need to be let go. It’s a business after all. We had a situation like this a couple of years ago. The negativity brought down the moral of everyone.… Read more »
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