Just because you may have some grumpy employees, does not necessarily mean that they are bad employees. Not everyone was born with a sunny disposition. There is a big difference between an employee with a bad attitude and a grumpy employee. Further, a grumpy or two in the office might be just what you need.
An employee with a bad attitude may exhibit the following characteristics, per an article from Workplace 101 – A Profiles Global Business Blog on May 22, 2012;
- Negative emotions toward the organization. It’s not uncommon to have those select employees who continuously make snide remarks about company leaders or co-workers. These negative feelings toward the organization clash with organizational goals and hurt the workplace environment.
- Insubordinate challenges to authority. Bad attitude employees might refuse to perform a task just in order to prove a point. That is disrespectful, unprofessional and sure isn’t helping your organizational effectiveness!
- Overly argumentative. Employees who aggravate and pick fights in the workplace create an uncomfortable and distrusting team setting. These employees don’t make efforts to compromise or settle disagreements with coworkers.
- Lazy, unmotivated. These are the employees who aren’t engaged in their work and spend most of their time goofing off and causing distractions. Disengaged employees spend their time sleeping, playing games, using social media and socializing.
But what if the employee is getting their work done, is not exhibiting the above behaviors, but is just not “nice” to be around? Does that mean that they should be the focus of employee engagement efforts or HR intervention? I would argue “no.” The article below referenced talks about these employees as being “haters”. This term is a bit derogatory for my liking, but the article makes some interesting observations:
- Grumpy and negative people are generally more efficient than happy colleagues
- Haters may be more skilled because they spend more time on fewer tasks
- They, therefore, have more opportunity to improve their areas of expertise
- People with sunny dispositions tend to want to have a go at more activities
“But in a twist of irony”, the article states, “that grumpy person you know may be better at their job since they spend so much time on fewer activities. This, according to U.S. research, gives them the opportunity to hone their skills in specific tasks more so than people with a sunny disposition.”
I once worked with “Sally” who was very grumpy. She rarely smiled and was very curt when asking for deliverables, or when communicating deadlines. The management and staff were tolerant of her because she wasn’t necessarily exhibiting the characteristics of an employee with a bad attitude. She had a job to do, and didn’t bother with idle chatter or niceness to get it accomplished.
Psychologists Robert Sinclair and Carrie Lavis, studied four groups of workers building circuit boards on a production line. Although those who described their mood as ‘sad’ did not produce any more work, they made half as many mistakes as happy workers – so fewer of their products failed quality control tests. The study also found miserable people used work to distract themselves from their mood. While happy people were more likely to regard work as an unwanted distraction – and a source of unhappiness.
Researchers at the University of Illinois and University of Pennsylvania found that people who had a positive attitude were likely to get involved in more activities. The findings published in the journal Social Psychology may have implications for understanding the development of expertise. The haters did fewer tasks. The likers see so many things as interesting opportunities, that they have difficulty sustaining interest in a task, so they move on to other things. Meanwhile, people who have a grumpy disposition do very few things with their time making them more likely to develop an expertise in an area. For example, likers invest small amounts of time in a wide variety of activities. This makes it difficult for them to develop expertise. In contrast, when haters find an activity they like, they may invest a larger amount of time in that task, allowing them to develop a higher level of skill.
That grumpy colleague may not be popular, but if you want a task completed, they may be just the type you need on your staff. Also, these findings contradict previous research on the subject, which suggests happy workers are more productive.
What about when a “grumpy” is in a leadership position? How well do they fare when dealing with workplace conflict? A certain general manager had a new hire who was not performing up to his expectations. This employee had relocated his family to another state to take the position. A conflict formed because the manager was unable to appropriately handle his emotion of disappointment in the performance of the employee. Instead, he acted in a passively aggressive manner; not coaching the new employee or helping him, but rather he let him fail by allowing him to fall on his face. The manager was unable to resolve the conflict with this employee because he was unwilling to go deeper to find out what might be the reasons behind his poor performance. He had no empathy, compassion or interest in the employee beyond what he could do for the manager and the company. This manager had limited resilience because his frontal lobes were filled with negative emotion (anger, frustration, disappointment, etc.) crowding out the executive level functions of accurate perception, thinking and sound judgement. This suggests that a “grumpy” may not be the best fit for a leadership position.