By Greg Smith

They’re here, there, everywhere. They upset managers and fellow employees—even themselves—and bring down staff morale. We’re talking, of course, about Mr. or Ms. Negative, those employees with bad attitudes who often make life miserable for their bosses and their co-workers with their constant complaints and naysaying ways. If not carefully managed, they can suck the energy out of your restaurant and your personal life.

What is a negative employee? They are people with poisonous attitudes and behavior patterns who negatively influence the people around them. Sometimes they spread rumors, undermine and gossip about coworkers, and/or bad-mouth their superiors to their faces and behind their backs. Basically, they are unhappy people who resist the positive efforts of others.

Managers often hesitate to terminate negative employees if they are productive or have special skills/experience. Sometimes managers do not understand the amount of stress a negative employee creates. It may be hard to terminate a negative employee who does a good job even at the expense of coworkers’ productivity. But ignoring or tolerating the problems they create can easily and quickly result in dissatisfaction among other employees.

Related: How to retain good pizzeria employees

What can a pizzeria owner/manager do when faced with this unpleasant dilemma? Here are eight steps to keep in mind:

1. Analyze the situation. How much does Mr. Negative contribute to the overall success of your pizzeria? How much does he contribute to personality conflicts with other employees? How does that unhappiness translate into reduced productivity and enthusiasm? How much time do you spend trying to control the situation or solve problems that result from this problem employee? What are the legal ramifications (if any) of discharging the employee?

2. Discuss the situation with the employee. He will probably profess ignorance of any problems, acknowledge the situation but blame the problems on others, or become defiant and try to play mind games with you. The employee may also voice his or her own complaints. But it’s important to have an honest and forthright discussion with the employee about the problem.

3. Evaluate the employee’s position. Even a person with a negative attitude can have a legitimate complaint. Evaluate not only the employee’s response to your remarks but whether the employee has legitimate concerns you need to consider. If the complaint is the basis of the person’s negative attitude/behavior, resolving it should result in a more positive situation. Often, however, the complaint is either a smokescreen for the employee’s behavior or has resulted from the person’s own negativity.

4. Focus on a behavior you want changed, not an attitude. Accept the reality that you may not be able to remake the person into an ideal employee, even if you are a great manager. However, you can specify an action or goal for the employee and follow through on his progress. Once you see improvement, focus on another area. Always, of course, acknowledge the employee’s efforts to improve.

5. Use personality profiles and assessments. Personality conflicts are often the result of misunderstandings that build up over time. Each individual has a different personality style, and different personality styles frequently clash. A team-building session can help co-workers understand and appreciate each other in a new way. Packaged along with a personality profile or an individual behavior assessment, it can be a powerful tool in reducing conflict and improving communication between workers.

6. Consider assignments that will isolate the person from other employees and limit contact. Success in the pizza business generally requires cooperation and teamwork among your staff, thus making this technique unworkable, but it might be feasible in some cases. You may even encounter an employee who prefers isolation and is less negative when working alone. Unfortunately, negative employees often seek out fellow workers, either to complain about their job, boss or life in general, or to blame other employees as the source of their unhappiness.

7. Set a limit and stick with it. You can always adopt the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. Make the employee aware of the limits, inform him of each “strike,” and remind him when he has only one “strike” left.

8. If necessary, terminate the employee. If all else fails and the negative employee ignores your warnings and refuses to cooperate, it is time to consider termination. Once you decide this is the proper course, take action. Otherwise, you risk losing the respect and confidence of your employees. Before termination, discuss the situation with a human resource professional if applicable and seek legal counsel accordingly.

Greg Smith helps create high performance organizations that attract, keep, and motivate their workforce.  He speaks at conferences and conducts training programs worldwide. He has helped business owners reduce employee turnover, increase sales, and deliver better customer service. For more information, visit or call (800) 821-2487 or (770) 860-9464.

This article is adapted from an earlier article that ran in 2007.