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Manage the Life Suckers

    Meet the ‘Life Sucker’ – the office complainer, the gossip king or queen, and the champion of negativity. They’re the weeds in your workplace, and boy, do they know how to drain the life out of everyone around them!

    Some people just seem to be born with a knack for finding the dark cloud in any silver lining. Nothing is ever good enough for them, and they love to play the blame game, pointing fingers at others without taking responsibility. Ever interacted with one of these energy vampires? You’d probably find yourself in dire need of an emergency stash of chocolate just to recover. Talk about heart and soul damage!

     In a workplace, they can be like an avalanche of negativity, gaining momentum with every complaint and gossip they spread. Luckily, we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves to handle these gloom merchants and restore the sunshine in your workplace.

    A Life Sucker in the Workplace

    It happens to every manager at some point in their career. Whether you’ve inherited a team with one or more of these soul-draining employees or welcomed a seemingly cheerful new hire who later reveals their talent for grumbling and gossip, dealing with their negativity can feel like battling a stormy tornado.

    I once had an employee who started off a tad pessimistic, but then life threw her a curveball. From that point on, it was like a never-ending monsoon of misery. She brought her personal life dramas to the office every single day, drowning us all in a sea of complaints. It wasn’t just her personal life she lamented; no, everything became a target. Work? Terrible. Pay? Lousy. Fairness? Non-existent. The list went on and on, like an infinite loop of gloom. 

    Now, you might be wondering, “What’s the big deal? Everyone has tough times.” True, but if left unchecked, these Life Suckers can transform your once-bustling workplace into a prickly field of thistle – an inhospitable environment for your team’s growth and productivity. 

    Behavior is Contagious

    As managers, we can either ignite positivity or fan the flames of negativity. Our actions set the tone for the entire team, and believe it or not, bad behavior is far more contagious than good. Just take a look at how a peaceful demonstration can quickly escalate into a riot with just one reckless act. A single brick thrown can trigger an avalanche of outrage, causing damage and destruction in its path. 

    Let’s face it,  being kind, avoiding complaints, and managing anger is not easy. It requires effort and dedication. That’s why there’s an abundance of resources and businesses offering support in areas like anger management and mindfulness.

    While we’re not expected to be perfect, as leaders, it’s important to recognize that our actions set the tone for everyone else. Our behavior ripples through the team, influencing attitudes, productivity, and overall morale.

    The Impact of Toxicity

    Picture a tiny weed in the corner of your beautiful garden – innocent and inconspicuous at first. When someone starts complaining or gossiping, it’s like the first sprout of that weed taking root. Initially, a few colleagues might lend an ear, offering support and understanding. However, like weeds left unchecked, the negativity spreads and grows. 

    As the toxic behavior gains momentum, more and more employees get entangled in the thorny vines of negativity. The constant complaints and pessimism become pervasive, exhausting and distracting the entire team. Like those relentless weeds, it starts to suffocate the once vibrant and harmonious work environment.

    Worse still, if left unaddressed, this toxic behavior can multiply. You’ll find yourself dedicating an excessive amount of time and energy to deal with a small group of people who cause a significant portion of your workplace problems. 

    If we let this negativity spread it will divide the workplace, with some employees following the toxic path and others desperately trying to avoid the negative influence. The workplace morale will slide, productivity declines, and collaboration dwindles.

    We must act quickly and decisively to uproot the weeds before they take over the entire garden. By addressing toxicity proactively, we can create a workplace where positivity flourishes and productivity blossoms.

    Navigating the Negativity

    Dealing with a toxic employee is no walk in the park. You can expect defensiveness, anger, and frustration when addressing their behavior. However, turning a blind eye and tolerating their actions is the worst thing you can do as a manager. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get started on cultivating a positive work environment.

    Nothing will kill a great employee faster than watching you tolerate a bad one

    Perry Belcher – The Mindset Journey

    Hire Right

    Root out toxicity from the very beginning by hiring the right people with the right attitude. Everyone presents their best side during an interview, so pay close attention to their words, expressions, and body language. Consider having a second person sit in during interviews to gain valuable insights. Be sure to have at least two interviews and have a different person sit in for the second one. You will get a better sense of an applicant’s personality when you meet them a second time because they will typically be more relaxed.

    Look out for red flags, such as comments like, “I didn’t get along with my boss, I don’t feel supported enough, or I tried but.” Any talk of blaming is a neon sign. Here are examples of some good probing questions to assess their behavior patterns.

    Get Perspective

    Before we uproot the problem, let’s dig a little deeper. Gain perspective on the employee’s behavior by understanding their point of view. This isn’t about playing counselor but broadening our vision to provide the necessary support and resources. Empathy can go a long way in helping employees through rough patches without letting negativity fester.

    Use Empathy when Appropriate

    Life can be unpredictable, and everyone goes through rough patches that can feel overwhelming. As managers, it’s essential to be understanding and compassionate when our team members are going through difficult times. Creating a supportive work environment means allowing space for personal struggles while encouraging open communication.

    Remember, employees are not just cogs in a machine; they are human beings with emotions and personal lives. So, don’t be quick to dismiss their concerns with a “leave your home life at home” mentality. Instead, show empathy and let them know it’s okay to have off days or even off weeks when life gets tough. Listen, but be careful not to feed the fire. Avoid circling down the drain with them as it does not help.

    Have a Tough Conversation, then Have it Again

    Don’t shy away from those difficult conversations; the sooner, the better.  Follow the steps in this article and be sure to decide on action and gain agreement, and be clear the behavior needs to change. Seldom will a situation fully improve after one conversation, so you may as well prepare for round two.

    A critical question to address during this conversation is:  Is the employee willing to change their behavior? The answer will guide your decision as to how much time and energy to invest. Ideally, the employee should be taking the lead in making positive changes, investing more effort than you as the manager, and if they are not willing to do that, it might be time to cut ties.

    Don’t Forget the Consequences

    To prevent toxicity from spreading like wild weeds, make sure employees understand the consequences of continuing negative behavior. Without repercussions, change is unlikely. Clearly communicate what will happen if they persist on the same path.

    Allow Time for Adjustment

    Recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight. If an employee is genuinely committed to improvement, allow them the time to make adjustments.  Remember, breaking habits takes effort, so encourage their progress while still fulfilling your responsibilities to the team.

    Provide Feedback

    Be proactive in providing feedback. Praise positive changes and accomplishments, and give specific, constructive feedback when toxic behavior rears its head. Encourage the employee to verbalize how they’d handle similar situations differently in the future.

     Here is an article to assist with providing effective feedback.

    Role Mode

    As managers, we set an example. Role model professionalism by not discussing the issue with other team members. When employees approach you about another’s behavior, listen, show support, thank them, and let them know you are aware and working through it.

    Detailed Documentation

    Document every step of the process, including your conversations, feedback, specific actions, and the impact on your team, customers and business. It’s time-consuming intially; however, it can save time in the long run.

    There are several reasons you want to document:

    • Transparency – the employee is fully aware of the issue and your expectations.
    • Clear communication – a written document removes any gray area. It eliminates wasted conversations about I said, I didn’t say, I didn’t understand. Have your employee review the notes and give them a copy.
    • Reference for future conversations – when actions continue, you have a document to refer to, and the next steps are clear. We talked about X, and you agreed to Y. This hasn’t happened, so now we are at Z.

    In larger organizations, presenting a case to higher-ups or HR may be necessary for termination. Specific documentation with dates, incidents, and consequences will be important for building your case. For example:

    ❌ Sally had another outburst last week.

    ✔️June 26th, Sally yelled at an employee. The employee was upset and required a break to calm her emotions. Customers were present during the outburst. Impact: 1. A customer commented on the lack of professionalism. 2. Customers waited longer due to her outburst and 3. an employee was negatively impacted.

    Yes, it’s work intensive, but worth it once everything gets resolved. It’s the only way you and your team will move forward.

    Ponder Points

    Which one of these is my workplace?



    What action will I take to achieve B?

    Please share your thoughts and experience with life suckers in the workplace.

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