Managing a chronically malcontent staff member can be an exhausting experience for a leader. No matter what you do to address the situation, there always seems to be a reason for the staff member to be unhappy, and to prove the truth of the old saying “misery loves company,” the malcontent often loves to spread their discontent to others, creating a whirlpool of negativity for the entire team. The result is the leader ends up spending the majority of his time managing the emotional state of the malcontent in an effort to keep peace within the team.
It’s easy to have all of your emotional and mental energy get sucked into the black hole of managing the malcontent. It’s important for leaders to step back, gain a little perspective, and have a strategy in place for handling these situations. Here’s a few tips that may help:
1. Be consistent in your behavior—It’s important for the malcontent to understand, and for other staff members to see, that you are going to remain consistent in your responses to the situations at hand. Don’t give in to emotional outbursts, frustration, or “fighting fire with fire,” but remain cognizant that you have to set the tone for the type of environment you want within the team and that you set the example of how team members should treat each other. Be respectful, yet firm and consistent, in dealing with the demands or issues raised by the malcontent. It’s necessary to support point #2.
2. Maintain your integrity—Don’t treat the malcontent unfairly by dismissing their concerns or excluding them from opportunities you would provide to other team members. Resist the urge to pander to their needs, walk on eggshells, or make exceptions for the malcontent just to avoid any negative reactions. Treat the malcontent fairly and consistently, just as you would any other staff member. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, the only thing a leader has left is his/her integrity. Don’t lose it by compromising your principles.
3. Don’t take it personally—Hurt people tend to hurt people. Those who have emotional and mental wounds from other life experiences can easily take out their pain and suffering on those around them. This is often the case with the office malcontent, who for whatever reason, chooses to express their unhappiness at work. If you have been consistent in your behavior and treated others equitably and ethically, you can feel confident that the issues probably lie with the malcontent, not with you.
4. Recognize when a change is needed—If previous constructive efforts have failed, and the leader has taken all reasonable steps to allow the malcontent to change his/her attitude, the only resolution may be a change of assignment or employment. Usually when it gets to this point in the employer/employee relationship, both parties know that a change is needed, and it often comes as a welcome relief. Certainly that’s not the case in all situations, so leaders need to make sure they’ve been consistent and ethical in their dealings with the employee over time. However, at some point in time, this may be the only solution available.
Each of us are ultimately responsible for our own attitudes and behaviors. Leaders have a responsibility for helping malcontent staff members see where they can improve and provide them the resources and opportunities to do so, but in the end, the employee has to take control of their actions and assume responsibility for the outcomes. If they are willing and able to change, they will. If not, they will manage themselves into other career opportunities.