How to deal with grumpy employees

By: Mark Williams

Date: 7 July 2014

How to deal with grumpy employeesMany of us will have worked with a grumpy colleague or employee, people who are best avoided some or even most of the time. Some of us may even be those very people, of course. Having to share oxygen with grouchy, cantankerous, huffy, prickly, churlish, sniffy, waspish workplace Victor Meldrew types, who function as 'drains' rather than 'radiators', is energy-sapping. But the good news for employers is grumpy staff are more productive.

That's according to a study carried out by the universities of Illinois and Pennsylvania, as published recently in the journal Social Psychology (and reported by Mail Online). Such employees (tagged 'Haters' by the researchers) usually become better at their jobs because they're more focused on work and concentrate on fewer tasks, which enables them to hone their skills and be more productive.

More popular workplace 'Likers' (ie bonhomous types who radiate positivity) usually spread themselves more thinly, which makes them less productive, according to the research. They struggle to restrict their attention to one task, because they perceive "many interesting opportunities in their environment". Consequently, they only develop skills to a certain level, albeit more widely.

Some employers might be perfectly willing to leave otherwise productive employees to their grumpiness, but what if a staff member's simmering anger, moodiness and general attitude problem become intolerable? This could become a big problem for your business - especially if they come into contact with your customers.

Addressing the problem

As any seasoned people manager knows, you must address unacceptable staff behaviour as soon as it arises, otherwise it can send out the wrong message that it's tolerated within your business. Employers are advised to take grumpy employees to one side for a private word. You should explain the effects your employee's belligerent, curmudgeonly ways are having on their colleagues and/or other aspects of your business (in the worst cases, it can seriously damage team morale and sales).

According to the Acas guide Discipline and grievance at work: "Cases of minor misconduct or unsatisfactory performance are usually best dealt with informally. A quiet word is often all that is required to improve an employee's conduct or performance."

If the employee's anger is work-related and valid, it should be addressed. If it's related to a personal issue, you can offer support (although employees should know that personal matters should not be allowed to affect their work if possible). Having a written policy or code of conduct describing acceptable behaviour and attitude can be enormously helpful.

Formal action

A quiet word might be all that it takes to ensure that the employee mends their ways (or at least treats others in a more acceptable manner). They might even be grateful for being able to get something off their chest.

But as the Acas guide concedes: "There will be situations where matters are more serious or where an informal approach has been tried but is not working. If informal action does not bring about an improvement, employers should provide employees with a clear signal of their dissatisfaction, by taking formal action."

  • Blog written by Start Up Donut editor and freelance content writer Mark Williams.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.