Bad Potatoes: Negative Employees
The saying goes “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel”. That may be, but before launching into an analysis of attitude in the work place and how it effects the overall working environment, I would like to suggest a better, in my opinion, more apt, expression: “One bad potato sneakily stinks up an entire kitchen while also ruining all adjacent potatoes.” (Who has a “barrel” of apples anyway?) I put this forward as a better, if somewhat long-winded, expression as rotting apples have a fruity, sweet smell whereas rotting potatoes can devastate an entire flat for days.
It also relates to the matter at hand more directly. You never suspect the potato — probably because of all the food related sayings, none of which seem to include the potato. So when that horrifying stink wafts everywhere you check your apples first, then your eggs (they have a bad reputation too) and so on. Potatoes are seen as fairly innocent things; they do the stinking up on the sneaky.
And so it is in many working environments. Often a work place will have a general malaise over it. There is a heaviness to the air; people are mopey and demotivated. Things get done begrudgingly and no one ever takes any kind of initiative. Several things may be happening: you might have a ventilation problem, you might have a terrible business idea that is foreseeably and obviously doomed to failure or you might have a bad potato employee.
Employees: Who’s Who
There are different types of bad potato employees. One study done on the matter defined negative people as those who don't do their fair share of the work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others.
The “chronically unhappy” people are the employees that are negative about everything — they are the bad-mood Brendon’s, the Kill-joy Kim’s or the Terrible Tyrone’s. When you suggest recycling towards sustainability, they say it’s too late and quote Al Gore. In a brainstorming session they offer only negatives and no solutions. During lunch they eat dry polony sarmies and moan about it.
The bullies are no longer sneaky potatoes; they are bad right out in the open. Employees that attack or snap at colleagues can be especially bad for a working environment because they introduce an element of aggression and defensiveness. When employees feel that they have to be on their guard in the work place, then the atmosphere immediately becomes sour.
People that don’t do their fair share of work are generally negative and lazy. These bad potatoes have yet to accept working as a part of life. They dream of communes in which loosely clad hippies waft around planting things. Instead, stuck in an office, they begin to resent the work, find ways not to do it and generally spread ill-will all round (ironically, making them the opposite of hippies.)
A part of being an adult and becoming a professional is coming to terms with several things. Firstly, if you like food, shelter and the occasional bottle of nutella, you have to work. Bemoaning your fate is boring and unhelpful — and most importantly, it makes everyone else in the office unhappy. Secondly, you can’t choose your colleagues, and so, since we no longer have the tradition of duelling to the death, you best find a way to be polite and pleasant and stifle the need to attack or bully people. Finally, things are rubbish. There is global warming and polony is disgusting on bread. But whining about it makes little difference and just brings everyone down.
Employers: Cleaning Up
An employer needs to be keenly aware of his or her employees’ attitudes in the work place. If someone is displaying aggressive behaviour then action must be taken. The employee must be called into a meeting and the problem must be addressed; the same with a lazy employee. But the generally negative employee — the sneaky bad potato — is more difficult to deal with. Someone with a bad attitude that does the required work leaves little leverage for an employer to work with.
Attitude is everything. In another study, researchers tracked 20 000 new employees in various companies. 46% of them failed in the company within 18 months. Surprisingly, 89% of them failed because of attitudinal reasons.
This is why employers need to hire for attitude. It is important to try to weed out negative people in the employing process. Look for signs of negativity and a bad attitude when interviewing prospective employees. This process can be worked into the interview process so as to pull out a person’s attitude to certain issues to give an idea of their attitude in general.
Finally, it is important to know the difference between a bad potato and a creative one. Creative people will often come at a particular problem from a different angle and may be a bugbear to the process. But this is a necessary and potentially valuable thing.
Ultimately your employees are the heart of your business; if that heart is rotten the success of your business will be in peril. Always try to maintain a culture of positivity in order to foster a positive working environment. And if you have a bad potato, try to move him or her away from the other employees, lest they rot the batch.
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