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Article Contributed By Steven D. Goldstein

No one enjoys working with a coworker with a poor attitude. Oftentimes, these employees are the first to be let go, with managers fearing that their demeanor may infect the rest of the team.

However, sometimes these less-than-positive employees have insights that can dramatically improve your business. Their anger may come from legitimate grievances that, if addressed, will lead to greater creativity and productivity in the workplace. As a leader and corporate advisor, I’ve seen numerous examples of successful turnarounds borne of employee frustration.

When dealing with this kind of worker, ask yourself:

Are they angry because much of their job is tedious, inefficient work that is sucking up their time, energy and motivation?

Everyone has parts of their job that they don’t like, but sometimes the minutia of a job can overwhelm a person. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a team member frustrated because she has  to put more hours into a status update for her boss than she can into actually making progress on a project. If your employees are consistently having to divert their efforts into tedious work, they are going to become frustrated and will drag drown the productivity and morale of an entire team. If an employee doesn’t feel like his time is being utilized, he will become angry.

So how do you combat a problem like this? Ask yourself, can the work be paired down? Can status updates be briefer or less frequent? Can meetings go from an hour to a half hour? Can tedious work be split up? Remember: billionaire Mark Cuban was once a frustrated tech company employee who got fed up with poor work policies and struck out on his own. Don’t underestimate the importance of fixing this problem, or you may never know the real talent that exists within your team. 

Are they angry because their goals aren’t clear, or because they aren’t empowered to reach them?

It is impossible to keep a good attitude when you’re chasing a series of ever-shifting goals, or you’re not given the right information or tools to achieve them. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen employees trying to rally a team together, only to be impeded by endless trips to supervisors to ask for approval, or being forced to iron out every detail before they’re allowed to execute a single aspect of a plan. This just amplifies how long it takes to get things done.  If there’s one credo I could offer to nearly every business, it’s that you’re not moving fast enough!

Even worse, and more demoralizing, is when a goal is clearly outside of the employee’s ability to achieve it. Employees need achievable goals, as well as “blue sky” goals, in order to feel like their work is purposeful, and reachable. If they are unclear (say, for example, if they’re judged on 20 different metrics) they’ll have no idea how to proceed, what’s really important, and will likely grow angry with their boss or the company itself.

Are they angry because they lack adequate incentives?

One of the number one reasons employees check out at the office is that they feel that their work is unimportant, or they don’t feel that they have an incentive to achieve more.

In most companies, money is the incentive, either in the form of a higher salary, a bonus, and in some cases, stock options. And while that can definitely help some people, it doesn’t solve the innate problem of a team member needing to feel valued. If they are paid well, but are constantly undermined by their manager and increasingly byzantine rules and regulations, how long will that money keep them? This is particularly true with Millennials, who are not swayed by the typical perks and benefits many companies used as incentive for past generations.

In particular, they want to see what good they are doing. In my new book Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?, I spoke with Claes Landberg, general manager of YOTEL in New York City, who told me about when he was just starting out working at managing a small restaurant in Stockholm:

“…My dishwasher was talking about what a failure he was in life, because he was only a dishwasher. So the next day I decided to do an experiment…I decided not to have him do the dishes for lunch.  He looked at me like I had three heads, but did what I said.  And then we start lunch, and the restaurant fills up quickly, and I hear the chef and everybody starting yelling ‘Hey, I need plates, I need plates!’ But we’ve run out. So I stop things and I say to them…we are closing down the restaurant. We can’t stay open because we don’t have plates to serve our guests, which means none of you have jobs anymore. And I turn to the dishwasher and I tell him, ‘this is how important you are. Everyone in this room—and their families—depend on you doing your job and doing it well.’ I’ve never seen anyone wash dishes the way he did after that.”

While it’s a rather extreme example, it fundamentally showed him and his team the value of his work. Find ways for your employees to see firsthand the value they’re creating, reward them both publicly and financially, and you’ll have highly motivated workers who will step up to the plate every time.

Author Bio:

Steven D. Goldstein has thirty-five years of experience working as an operating executive at both global Fortune 500 corporations (including as Chairman and CEO of American Express Bank), midsize companies, as well as advising private equity firms with their portfolio companies. He currently serves as Chairman of US Auto Sales, as Senior Advisor to Milestone Partners and as Senior Advisor to Alvarez and Marsal.



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