The Definitive Guide to the Attitude in the Workplace

Workplace attitudes affect more than an individual's job performance. One person's attitude can impact every person in an organization, from the owner to the other employees, clients, vendors and even shareholders.

[Estimated read time: 19 minutes]

At the same time, as a manager, learning to work with people on a level that positively impacts their attitude can feel like babysitting. It's easy for managers to fall into the trap of thinking, Acting like an adult and being positive is part of what I pay them to do.

I love to work pinWhile it's true that we can expect a certain standard of behavior from employees, demanding that they meet that behavior – without working to help them achieve our standards – isn't enough. As managers, not only can we influence our employees' attitudes, but we can also impact our organization's culture. And a culture that reinforces positive workplace attitudes will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, team members, and the bottom line. A culture that is unnecessarily negative, on the other hand, will cause stress and disengagement, and increase employee turnover.

Devising a strategy to affect something as vast and intangible as workplace culture and employee attitudes may seem a daunting task. However, once you know how to identify different types of behaviors and attitudes and how they affect the workplace, it's easy to get ahead of potential problems and steer your team in the right direction. And in this article, we'll cover some of the modern tools that can not only help you identify some of these issues but also help you create strategies to deal with them.

In this article we will dig into these topics:

Types of Attitudes and Personalities at Work

Attitude is "a settled way of thinking about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person's behavior." By itself, attitude is neither positive nor negative – although the expression "don't give me that attitude" usually has a bad connotation.

A positive workplace – one in which productivity soars, employee well-being is at its peak, and there's an overall good vibe – is very much like a concert violin: all its strings must be finely tuned in order for it to play in harmony with the rest of the orchestra.

This, of course, is easier said than done.

Every work group is a smorgasbord of different personalities. Of course every person has individual goals and needs and approaches to obtaining these. On top of individual attitudes, there are also more general differences that need to be considered, such as background, culture, education and gender. Some combinations of these interact better together than others.

If you're familiar with the Five-Factor Model of Personality (OCEAN) you can probably picture any member of your team or company and point out some with higher or lower scores in each of the factors. (Here's a short PPT presentation that illustrates this model very clearly.)

You can probably name some employees who are more Open to new experiences; some who are more or less Conscientious and aware of their actions and consequences; some who exhibit high degrees of Extraversion and are more outgoing and talkative; some who are more Agreeable, friendly and cooperative; and some who have higher degrees of Neuroticism and over-think every problem and situation.

Every person on your team shows varying degrees of every dimension of the Five-Factor Model. And when they interact with the other team members, the result is the team's dynamic.

These dynamics can either stimulate or stifle the group's potential for success, depending mostly on the attitude of each of its components.

As a leader, nothing brings more satisfaction than seeing your team members working together toward a common purpose, crossing each goal post with smiles on their faces, sweat on their brows, and cheerful and positive attitudes. But we know this is seldom the case.

Being a manager, you know all too well how much of your time is spent, not on the duties described in your job description, but in dealing with the different personalities of your team members. No matter how high your organizational commitment may be, dealing with negative attitude issues from your subordinates can be very taxing and time consuming.

Adding to the problem is the fact that no one person is always Open, or always Neurotic, or always Extraverted. People's personalities are somewhat fluid within a specific range and all of us display some or most of these qualities at different times and in different degrees – and the way these aspects of a person's personality come out at work leads to some common and recognizable work attitudes. Some people might exhibit a certain personality at work and be completely different at home. Others can behave very openly around their coworkers and make a complete 180˚ around their boss and become more of an introvert.

Common Attitudes (Positive and Negative, with Examples)

Every organization is comprised of many types of work attitudes. Following are some of the most common and recognizable.

List of positive attitude examples:

  • Search for Fulfillment Team members with this type of good attitude usually want to change the world. They are visionaries with a strong sense of purpose and you can find them in all kinds of settings, such as schools, hospitals, courtrooms and non-profit organizations.
  • Respect for Others The attitude of respect extends not only to the way individuals interact with their superiors but also with their peers, their clients, their vendors and even themselves. No matter how much a respectful person disagrees with someone, they will always be polite and act professionally.
  • High Achievement These are men and women who set ambitious goals, write them down and visualize their realization every single day. You will usually find high achievers at the top of every organization as well as professions such as attorneys, surgeons, investment bankers, politicians, and astronauts.
  • Infectious Excitement Eternal cheerleaders, individuals who always maintain a positive attitude tend to spark waves of enthusiasm among their peers. They are great at rallying the troops and their can-do attitude makes everyone feel unstoppable.
  • Job Commitment A very high sense of pride usually defines people with high job commitment. For them, their labor-force participation is a source of immense satisfaction and they wear their title like a badge of honor. These workers will usually do whatever it takes to fulfill their duties and present an impeccable work behavior.
  • Risk Taking Bored easily, risk takers are usually attracted to high-risk/high-reward jobs. They seldom stay in one company for very long and they are usually looking for the next, better opportunity. Money is usually a big motivator for risk takers.
  • Innovation "What if" is the seed of every idea spawned by innovators. They are always thinking of new processes to make things easier for others at the office. Never content with the status quo, these individuals use lateral thinking effortlessly in order to come up with new solutions to every problem.
  • Helpfulness Great at customer service, team members who exhibit this good attitude love the feeling they get when they assist someone else. Even though they might not be overly extroverted, they get a lot of satisfaction when they feel like others depend on them.
  • Ladder Climbing The opposite of people looking for fulfillment, ladder climbers prefer stability in their jobs. They are in it for the long haul and are always ready for the next promotion. Upward mobility is their biggest motivator and they are very comfortable being a "company person."

List of negative attitude examples:

  • Clock Punching Low on the ambition scale, clock punchers are usually very dissatisfied with their current situation but seldom take any massive action to improve it. They work in jobs that do not require a high level of preparation and are always thinking about the end of their workday.
  • Paycheck Cashing These team members cherish their benefits and perks. They usually don't stick their necks out too far for fear of putting their current situation at risk. You will probably find these people tucked away in their cubicles or in blue-collar jobs.

Recognizing Attitude Problems

So, how do you recognize people with negative attitude problems?

Here are the top 12 signs to watch for:

  1. Jumping to Conclusions This person is quick to rush to judgments. They don't listen to all sides of a story before jumping to conclusions that are often wrong, one sided, or even biased.
  2. Eternal Pessimism No matter the situation, this team member always finds the dark side first. This, in turn, kills their own motivation and drives them to quit on a project before they even get started. Because their attitude at work is so damaged and eroded, these people believe in their heart of hearts that things will never go their way.
  3. Stubbornness People with work-attitude problems are usually very stubborn. They make up their mind about what's right and what's wrong with a situation or a coworker and that's it, there's no way to change their minds.This mindset leads some team members to always believe they are right and never compromise.
  4. Too little, too late When you decide to step in and have an "exchange of ideas and suggestions" or, in other words, to write the employee up, this individual always finds a way to wait until the time is just right to improve their attitude.
  5. High intolerance Because job satisfaction, or rather the lack thereof, is usually at the center of this person's core issue, they find everything around them irritating. Loud music? Yikes! Overly chatty coworkers? How dare they interrupt this person's train of thought! A dirty break room? Oh, the nerve of this person's disgusting coworkers!
  6. Emotional Instability People who fall under this red flag get disproportionately mad over anything they consider to go against their values, no matter how insignificant an issue it is. Another person's style of dress or singing "Happy Birthday" to their coworkers or can seem to drive them to insanity.
  7. Diminished Social Interaction Of course, negative people seldom have long-lasting relationships at the office. They tend to be loners, sometimes by choice and other times by driving away their teammates with their cold vibe.
  8. Easily Offended Not every day is doom and gloom for this team member. After all, they were once able to convince your hiring manager that they were a great fit with your organization. While they will sometimes come out of their cave and do something nice for someone else, because of their bad track record with office relationships their random acts of kindness will usually go unnoticed, and they will feel deeply hurt.
  9. Constant Worrying This employee's middle name could very well be Chicken Little; every minute issue feels to him like the sky is falling. While worry by itself isn't a problem – after all, sometimes things do go wrong, and worrying about those things can lead to solutions to problems – worrying about things that are beyond a person's control is a problem. This kind of worrying can take their focus away from their task at hand and their productivity will take a hit.
  10. Sense of Entitlement These team members are seldom grateful when someone does a nice thing for them. Not only that, the laws of the universe must always bend in their favor. When someone gives this problem employee a compliment, they usually take it as if it was something owed to them.
  11. Feelings of Insecurity On the other hand, people with this attitude problem may spend too much time wondering why good things never happen to them, and not enough time working to make good things happen. Feelings of insecurity and inferiority don't allow a person to find real joy when something good happens to someone else.
  12. Victim Mentality People with a victim mentality feel the world is conspiring against them. These employees have a tendency to always look for scapegoats and to blame others for their own problems. These people always think of themselves as the victim of other people's incompetence or negligence.

Causes of a Bad Attitude

Let's face it, you would NEVER hire someone you suspect is going to exhibit any of the 12 signs listed above, right?

That ogre who terrorizes every meeting, sabotages every brainstorming session and derails every creative endeavor, was once a pleasant, smiling and affable human being.

So, where did things go horribly wrong? What causes employees to create such workplace negativity?

Here are 6 typical causes of attitude issues at a workplace:

  1. Not feeling appreciated
  2. Plain old disenchantment
  3. Bad management
  4. Lack of fellowship and camaraderie
  5. Burnout
  6. A change in the Person-Environment Fit (PE Fit)

1 - Not feeling appreciated

Think of the last time you did something great at work. You put in a ton of extra time, did your research, wrote and rewrote your report, added color 3D charts and even sprayed a little perfume on everyone's leather-bound copy. In your mind's movie everyone stands up and cheers, they high-five each other as they lift you on their shoulders and parade you around the office while cannons shoot confetti. But, in reality, your boss barely looks at your work and, instead of praising it, she points out that you did not use the right corporate font for the subtitles. How did this make you feel? Perhaps this time you give her a pass and chalk it up to the rainy weather. But, how do you feel the next time this happens? And the next? You get my point.

2 - Plain old disenchantment

Not everyone gets to be the new frontman for Journey, to be adored by millions and live the rock n' roll dream. Some of us simply get bored with our dull work environment. Doing the same thing every single day can feel like we're not really making a dent in the universe. Unless we compensate for this humdrum with other, more fulfilling aspects of our workday, bad thoughts easily creep into our daydreams. Of course, no one can reasonably expect a company to make every title and position as exciting as flying to the moon, but there are tons of techniques, behaviors, and activities that can bring excitement to a dull workplace. Here are just a few good resources to get you started:

3 - Bad management

According to a Gallup study, 75% of employees who voluntarily quit their jobs do so not because they don't like the company or their work, but because they don't like their boss. The problem here is that not everyone quits immediately after discovering they dislike their supervisor. No way! Usually, these people will endure for a long time until they either muster the courage to leave or find a better employer. In the meantime, their job satisfaction drops to near zero and their positive attitude goes down the drain, often bringing others' attitudes down with them.

A good employee-satisfaction survey like Clarity Wave will always include questions about supervisors and managers and will identify any hotspots that can be dealt with promptly.

4 - Lack of fellowship and camaraderie

Many of us spend more time at work than with our families, or at least more quality time. Having close work friends with whom we share the good times and the bad is critical to feeling a sense of belonging and identity. If your work team doesn't feel like a family (even a dysfunctional one) the connection between your work and your life grows weaker and weaker. We're not advocating becoming BFF's with everyone and getting matching tattoos of the company logo – unless you work at Harley Davidson, of course – but a certain degree of affinity and warmth keeps everyone looking forward to coming back to work every Monday morning.

5 - Burnout

Workaholics usually walk a fine line between overachieving and crashing and burning. When the latter happens, self-defeating behaviors plant seeds in the overachiever's head as he becomes more and more bitter. He can create an aura of workplace negativity that sucks in the rest of his team.

6 - Change in the Person-Environment Fit (PE Fit)

This is defined as the degree to which a person and their environmental characteristics match. In some cases, a team member can develop adverse behavioral traits when something changes dramatically in their Person-Environment Fit. For example, they may be assigned to a different work function that does not fulfill them, they may be relocated to a different city they do not like, or they may have a beloved boss retire or be replaced.

Consequences of Ignoring Attitude Issues

What are the biggest consequences of tolerating team members with a bad attitude?

Here are just a few common outcomes:

  1. Increased friction in the work teams
  2. Decreased flow of communication
  3. Less employee engagement
  4. Less creativity
  5. Reduced Performance
  6. Unhappy team members
  7. Tense overall workplace climate
  8. Unhappy customers

1 - Increased friction in the work teams

No one likes to be around people with a bad attitude. It doesn't matter if they direct their nasty feelings toward a specific person – like their supervisor – or at management in general or the whole company. Being around someone who's constantly looking for the gloomy side of everything is simply exhausting. Their comments usually range from sarcastic to downright nasty, and having to endure working alongside these people can have an adverse effect on other members. Remember that misery loves company, and be sure to not let bad attitudes fester.

2 - Decreased flow of communication

With an increase in tension among teammates comes a decrease in the flow of communication. People simply do their best to avoid having to talk to a bitter person. Why bother asking a person with a bad attitude for needed help on a project if every interaction becomes a 30-minute rant on how "Jane from Accounting keeps heating fish in the office microwave and finishing all the good coffee creamers."

3 - Less employee engagement

With a break in communication, team members soon start losing the positive momentum that kept them engaged at work. When a team that has one or two toxic members stops collaborating and only talks about purely essential issues, everyone becomes more and more reclusive and shielded.

4 - Less creativity

Creativity happens best when everyone feels safe sharing their ideas. Usually, brainstorming sessions start off a bit awkwardly and then, as people feel that they can take more risks and propose crazier ideas, the golden nuggets start revealing themselves. If you've ever participated in a creative session where one or two people had a "this-is-stupid" attitude, then you've seen how everyone else limits their proposals to the safest and most conservative solutions. No one likes to be judged, especially by the office curmudgeon.

5 - Reduced performance

Can a negative attitude at the office affect performance? Or is it the other way around? Psychologist Michael Riketta published a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology in which he conducted a meta-analytic review of 16 studies that measured performance and job attitudes. He came to the conclusion that job attitudes are more likely to influence performance than vice versa.

6 - Unhappy team members

As we said earlier, misery loves company, and everyone is at risk of gravitating toward the person who is always assigning blame to others. For some, it's easier – and safer – to join the toxic coworker in complaining about their boss than to be the target of the toxic coworker's complaints to others.

Keep in mind that we all have bad days. But if we seek refuge in the cubicle of the office's angriest person, we will most assuredly come out feeling even more depressed, defeated and unhappy than when our day began.

7 - Tense overall workplace climate

A happy workplace climate requires a balance of many dimensions. Our employee engagement tool Clarity Wave uses a model that includes: Identity, Equality, Respect, Fellowship, Credibility, Wellness, Performance and Culture. A negative person usually scores low in more than one of these dimensions – usually Respect, Fellowship, and Identity. However, our software also measures the overall perception of the company's climate every single day. We can easily see how a toxic worker brings down a whole team.

8 - Unhappy customers

All the above consequences lead to the most devastating of them all: Unhappy customers.

Remember that famous TV commercial for California Milk? The tagline was, "Great milk comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California."  The same can be applied to customer service. Great customer service creates happy customers and happy employees give great customer service!

Don't believe me? Here's a simple scenario: You go to the post office to ship your priceless collection of Lladro figurines. Who would you like to handle your package once you leave the store: a) the guy whose boss just thanked him for his hard work, put a letter of commendation in his file, and left him with a smile on his face while he hummed the latest Bruno Mars song, or b) the guy who just that morning got a ticket for speeding, showed up late to work and got an earful from his manager and lost his punctuality bonus? That's right… great milk comes from happy cows and unbroken figurines come from employees who feel appreciated and know their worth.

Managing a Negative Employee

No matter how good your hiring process is or how many subscriptions to the Journal of Applied Psychology your HR team has, you will eventually hire a person who will develop a terrible attitude.

So, what do you do with them?

Here are 7 strategies for dealing with a negative employee:

  1. Don't justify their attitude
  2. Make them your ally
  3. Let them implement their own solutions
  4. Don't accept their excuses
  5. Redirect their focus
  6. Give them a challenge
  7. Know when it's not you, it's them

1 - Don't justify their attitude

When you've known an employee for some time, it's easy to fall into the trap of making excuses for them. Because you might know them outside of work, you may be empathetic to their situation. Maybe they're going through a breakup or are having money problems and you simply rationalize it as, "He's having a hard time, give him a break."

While everyone goes through rough patches and it is important to be considerate to the needs of a long-term employee, it's just as important to know when to say "when." The team will appreciate a compassionate and understanding boss, but they don't want to work for a pushover. A person with a poor attitude will do more harm to your team than you can ever imagine. So when an employee needs help and understanding, ask what you can do for them and set a reasonable timeframe for them to begin doing better. And when that time is up, face the facts and call a spade a spade.

2 - Make them your ally

When you sit down with the team member, ask them to tell you not only how they feel but also what they would do if they were in your shoes. Try to come up with a solution together. If you can, try to include role-playing scenarios to help them verbalize the situation and even improve decision-making processes and sequences.

3 - Let them implement their own solutions

There is seldom a better idea – or an idea we're more committed to – than the one we think of ourselves. This is especially true for a person who thinks they're the best thing since sliced bread. If that's the case, have them come up with a plan. A wise person once said, "Whenever I'm faced with a difficult decision, I ask myself, 'What would a person smarter than I am do?' And then I simply do it." In much the same way, tactfully ask an employee who's showing a problem behavior to think what a positive person would do in their situation. You will be surprised at the magic results of this exercise.

4 - Don't accept their excuses

Yes, other people at work might be inconsiderate, loud, tardy, lazy or dumb. Yes, the company hasn't given a decent salary increase since the 80's. However, the only thing we can control is our attitude toward any situation. Do not accept rude behavior, lack of respect or bad language from anyone. The person is as much an employee of the company as everyone else and we're all in this together.

5 - Redirect their focus

Every time the person tells you something bad about anything, practice verbal jiu-jitsu and redirect their attention to something positive. Tell them in advance they cannot state something bad unless they can counterbalance it with something just as good.

6 - Give them a challenge

I once heard the story of Bob Hoover, an air-show pilot who almost crashed because one of his crew members filled his plane with the wrong type of fuel. When he found out who it was, he walked up to him and said: "I'm positive you'll never make this mistake again. That's why I want to make sure that you're the only one to refuel my plane tomorrow."

Like Bob Hoover, try giving a problematic employee a big project. One that will get them excited about achieving something great for the company. In many cases, people develop poor attitudes because they feel unappreciated and undervalued. By giving them a renewed sense of purpose they will feel re-energized. However, make sure they don't feel like you're just piling more work on their plate.

7 - Know when it's not you, it's them

Sometimes, no matter how much you try, people have simply run their course in the company. Know when it's time to say goodbye. You'll probably do both parties a big favor.

In Conclusion

We all have good and bad days at the office and all of us deal with issues in our own unique ways, especially when we're not happy at work.

Most of the time you won't need a degree in psychology, or even a how-to PowerPoint presentation, to be able to spot a toxic team member. Sometimes, however, the signs can be subtle.

This is where engagement, satisfaction and attitude surveys like Clarity Wave, can help you identify team members with positive and negative attitudes.

Some people might very well have the best work ethic in the world but still have the ability to suck the oxygen out of every team they work with.

Their attitude in the workplace, whether positive or not, helps determine their chances for career success.

As the author and speaker Zig Ziglar says: "Your attitude determines your altitude".


  1. "Six types of Employee Attitudes." (1998),
  2. "Five Attitudes That Are Important in Workplaces. Lynda Moultry Belcher,
  3. "How to Manage a Negative Employee", Tim Parker,

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