I have a bad attitude

We’re on the theme of “bad attitude” this month. We’ve had extensive conversations about others’ bad attitudes and how their bad attitudes can cause major problems for us at work. But what if the “bad attitude” culprit is you? What if you’ve got the bad attitude? What can you do?


Your first step in dealing with your grumpiness is to figure out how you arrived in the land of “bad attitude.” It didn’t happen overnight. Bad attitudes usually form over time and they rarely come from one singular event. So ask yourself, does it come from one of these more common reasons:

  • Your boss – is your boss the reason for your bad attitude? Has he or she jerked you around, caused you daily headaches, and generally killed any enthusiasm you’ve ever had? The boss – a common cause of bad attitudes everywhere.
  • Your co-workers – perhaps the reason is your co-workers. Does it feel like you’ve entered middle school and are enjoying all the fun that accompanies adolescent backstabbing, politicking, cliques and overall hurtful behavior? Bad co-workers can be an attitude crusher for sure.
  • You lost the magic – did you lose your passion and fulfillment for what you do? Maybe you never had it and that’s the problem. Regardless, having an empty hole where there should be a spark can end in a bad attitude.
  • Burn-out – too much. Is your bad attitude a result of just too much for too long without a breather, a break or any help? In this economy, two thumbs down for this all-too-common attitude disintegrator.

What’s it costing you?

Grab a handy piece of paper and jot down what the costs might be if your attitude doesn’t turn from the dark side. Consider the following significant costs:

  • Reputation / Brand? Are you getting to be known as the one with the “Bad Attitude?” It takes a long time to turn those around. Be careful. A “rep” can form overnight and take years to overcome.
  • Relationships? Are your co-workers and your boss fighting with you more often… or worse, are they beginning to steer clear of you? This could hurt your ability to be effective, be a part of the team and may even mean they are preparing to “invite you to leave.”
  • Promotions / Opportunities? Are you at risk of losing future opportunities because of your bad attitude today? No one wants to be stuck. Be careful.

Turning from the Dark Side

There are two good paths for turning around one’s attitude. Consider dipping from both to ensure a proper inoculation.

1. Reconnect with your vision for your career / life – Bad attitudes are about the “here and now.” One way to counter your bad attitude is to begin to think about your career plan. What’s next and what would bring you enjoyment in your career? Fulfillment and meaning can be a cure for any bad attitude. Consider the following:

    • What’s your vision for your career? Do you have a plan on where you want to go over the next several years? Get one. For more, see this post on setting inspirational goals.
    • What’s your purpose for your career and life? This is such an important topic that I spent two entire months on it! Consider some of these 5 questions to help you get there.


2. Recharge your batteries – You probably aren’t good to anyone right now (including yourself) until you recharge your batteries. Consider some of these good strategies for getting your mojo back:

    • Vacation – There is an art and science to vacationing. Picking the right format can be just what the doctored ordered. Choosing poorly can leave you in worse shape (if that’s possible). For more on vacationing, go here.
    • Rest – Are you getting the proper rest you need? Shoot for 7 hours – anything less and you may be actually dealing with an exhaustion problem more than an actual attitude problem. Let’s see what we are really dealing with. Shoot for a good “catch up” night of sleep ASAP.
    • The right people – are you hanging with the right people? The right crowd recharges your batteries. The wrong crowd drains you. Get together with you peeps, ASAP for regular nights out (or at least one).
    • Hobbies – Is there anything else that might get you charged up and give you energy? Exercise, woodwork, scrapbooking, golf, collecting Hummel figurines, etc… Reconnect with the things that get you excited and see if you start feeling better.


And of course, there’s always medication, but before we start messing with your body chemistry I prefer that we start with less extreme options. Then again, if you are going to start collecting Hummel figurines as your solution, maybe medication is a better option.

Regardless, start today. Don’t be like Darth Vader and decide after decades of a bad attitude, you’re gonna turn it around just to end up croaking a short time later. What a bummer.


My employee has a bad attitude – they only do what’s in their job description

We are concluding our series on employees with “bad attitudes.” We’ve already tackled employees who have no sense of urgency as well as grumpy employees. In this post we are going to address another “bad attitude” pattern from employees and others – “That’s not in my job description.”

That’s Not In My Job Description

A few months ago, I was guest lecturing at another University and for that particular night, I was evaluating presentations. I needed to provide live feedback to the individuals presenting, provide detailed feedback via notes and, on top of all of that, the presentations were going to be recorded so someone had to man the camera. Finding myself in a bind, I walked out into the hall and I asked the IT support staff person (these individuals are assigned to classrooms to assist if there is any kind of technical difficulties) if he would be available to help me record the presentations. Guess what his response was? You guessed it: “That’s not in my job description.” As a result, for 4 hours I watched presentations, manned the camera, typed feedback and debriefed every individual after each presentation. My IT support dude sat outside at the main desk and read a book. Can you tell I’m just a wee bit bitter?

The “that’s not in my job description” employee is not a bad person, but they are definitely not helpful. In fact, they can leave one still thinking about the interaction months later (not that I know anyone like that). So let’s talk about what it gets them and costs them.

What they get from having a “bad attitude”

They get a decent payoff from their “bad attitude.” They are really clear at the end of the day, and come performance review time, what they did. They stuck to the prescribed list and they did those tasks as defined. There is little room for argument that they didn’t do their job as its stated on the official “job description” that resides in H.R. So, in that way they protect themselves. They make sure their job, and only their job, get’s done. There won’t be any “scope creep” with these folks. No boundary issues or workplace co-dependency. They do just what they are paid to do.

What it costs them and YOU

What it costs all parties involved is significant. Common with any form of “bad attitude,” it always costs the individual promotion opportunities. No one with this particular “bad attitude” is going to get promoted because they never show any willingness or desire to stretch beyond his or her role. As a manager, it makes your job tremendously difficult. They are so incredibly rigid that if a fire pops up, you will have a difficult time getting him or her to step up and take it on. You lose flexibility. You also run the risk that his or her attitude becomes contagious. If your whole team observes how things play out and begin to believe that their lives would be easier if they just stick to their job descriptions as well, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.

How to manage them

Managing individuals through their “it’s not in my job description” attitude is not easy, but it can be done. Why?  Primarily because these folks do a good job responding to directness, clarity and specificity. So, as a result, you essentially need to “rewrite” their job description.

So what can you do? Following this simple plan:

  1. Rewrite their job description.  Tell them that based on their solid performance and the changing needs of the department, you are going to revise their job description to provide them more “stretch” opportunities.
  2. Be specific. Don’t just say, “be more flexible.” Tell them what you mean by flexible. Example: tell him or her that flexibility means that every time they see a co-worker struggling, they should offer to help. When a client comes and asks for something that is outside of their job description, offer to take them to the right resource and assist if you can.
  3. Ask them to keep track. Tell them that you want them to count how often they did things “outside of their job description” and report those to you once a month (or some other determined date). This provides accountability and a way for you to make something “fuzzy” seem more concrete for people who like the comfort that concrete provides.

And of course, there is a quicker option if the steps above seem too troublesome. Simply invite them to meet with you in your office and as they sit down, pull out their job description, light it on fire and exclaim, “Any questions?” A mildly dysfunctional approach to be sure, but very entertaining nonetheless…


My employee has a bad attitude – they are grumpy

We’re in the middle of a series on “attitude,” particularly as it relates to the folks we manage. One of the toughest assignments we can ever get as a manager is an employee with an “attitude problem.” What a wonderful smorgasbord of things that could mean. From being slow to respond to grumpy behavior, an employee with a bad attitude is no fun at all. In an earlier post, we addressed “the slowpoke” – those employees that seem to completely lack any sense of urgency in how they work. In this post, we are going to tackle “the grump.” Before I dive into describing “the grump,” consider what a reader recently sent to me. I think this captures “the grump” perfectly!

“My people aren’t bad workers or slow. They are excellent at what they do. They just ruin it all with their tone in meetings and responses to e-mails. Because of that, no one wants or likes to work with them.”

They are “grumps.” So what is a “Grump?”

The Grump

We all know them. The grump usually sees everyone around him or her as an irritation and annoyance – and they let you know it. Their mantra: “the world would be much better off if everyone just did their job and didn’t bother me with their problems.” We know we have a “grump” in our midst when we see a co-worker demonstrating any combination of the following:

  • Short biting e-mails – very little “niceties” in any e-mail, ever. All e-mails seem to have an edge
  • Cranky expressions and grunts when they see us (or anyone) coming
  • When asked to do something… anything, they usually respond with extreme irritation and appear as though to take it as a personal affront

What they get from having a “bad attitude”

Ironically, the “grump” actually gets quite a pay-off from his or her bad attitude. Usually they are treated with “kid gloves” by others. No one wants to upset the “grump” for fear of more negativity. And most importantly, his or her manager largely leaves them alone. The negativity and attitude is just too much to take during performance conversations and since they still perform the basic functions of their job, it is tough to know how to talk to the “grump” about attitude without it turning nasty. So, the grump gets left alone by just about everyone… in many cases for years, despite their bad attitude on the job.

What it costs them and YOU

The costs of being a “grump” and having a “grump” on your team are high. For starters, the “grump” isn’t going anywhere. “Grumps” rarely get promoted so if you are grumpy, rule out any plans for career progression. As a manager, that’s one more employee you can’t “do anything with.” Their flexibility and potential are limited unless their attitude changes. As the manager of the “grump,” the costs are even worse. “Grumps” crush morale. They are a major buzz kill to anything related to teamwork, collaboration and camaraderie. No one wants to work with them and that often means more work for everyone else. Inevitably, you run the risk of losing “good attitude” employees because they get demoralized working with the “grump” every day knowing you aren’t going to do anything about it.

How to manage them

Grumps are no fun, but they can be turned from the dark side with some effort. Deep down, grumps want people to like them, but they are wary of trusting others. They are terrified of vulnerability and consequently worship control. As a result, they use their “grumpy” personae to keep others at a distance, maintaining their control over their work and their space. And yet, it is the “grump” that wants more than anything to be appreciated, noticed, seen and thanked for who they are.

So what can you do? Following this 4 step plan:

  1. Be honest with them. Share with them how you experience them. “Stacie, I’ve noticed every time I come over to your desk you seem to scowl. And when I ask for your help, you seem to respond as though I’m irritating you. It’s hard for me to not take that personally. It makes me uncomfortable to talk to you or ask you for anything. It’s like I personally offend you. It feels awful. I wonder if others are experiencing you the same way. ”
  2. Acknowledge that this is not the message they are intending to send. Don’t assume that the “grump” actually wants everyone to not like him or her and that he or she doesn’t like others. We are not nearly that self-aware as human beings. “Stacie, I know this is not how you want to come across. I know that’s not you.”
  3. Share with them what it might be costing him or her. “My fear for you is that you will get a reputation as someone ‘difficult to work with’ and that could be really difficult to overcome. Not to mention, it could make it hard for you to get the opportunities you might want.”
  4. Offer some solutions if they are open. “I’m happy to help if you want to make some adjustments.” Consider some of these as good starters for helping “grumps” overcome grumpiness:
    • Ask others, “how can I help?”
    • Add more sensitivity in your e-mails. Ask someone to proofread it before you send it if you think it might come across as “negative”
    • Be proactive in trying to “serve others” rather than reactive hoping no one asks you for help. Do one thoughtful thing a week for a co-worker.
    • Have lunch with a co-worker once a week.

There you have it. The “grump.” Next up in our series on employees with “bad attitudes:”

“Not in My Job Description”

I really hate it when people give me that line…

My employee has a bad attitude – They have no urgency!

Do you have an employee with a bad attitude? If so, my heart goes out to you. Managing clear performance behaviors is one thing. Managing “attitude” is something entirely different. Attitude is fuzzy and tough to put words around. This is partly due to what falls under the category of “attitude.” Attitude is not about “what” is getting done. At its core, attitude is all about “how” something gets done. Responsiveness, flexibility, “service with a smile,” no complaints, etc… These are all traits we associate with a “good attitude.” The challenge with trying to change an employee’s bad attitude is that it can be difficult to put one’s finger on… and the corresponding words around it. As a result, managers default to something generic like “Just work on your attitude.” Here’s the problem, without a lack of specificity and clarity, the test for good / bad attitude becomes just like the test for pornography – “I know it when I see it.” And naturally, if we were the employee that found him or herself in that position, we would go to one of two places:

  • My boss doesn’t like me (for more on that dysfunction, go here)


  • What does that mean? I don’t have any idea what he / she is talking about, so I’m just going to ignore it and go back to doing the job the way I have been

As a manager, dealing with an employee with a bad attitude is tricky no doubt. So, here are some ways to tackle this precarious predicament. I’m going to start this series of “employee bad attitudes” with a common attitude challenge – your direct report is slow as molasses to get anything done.

The Slowpoke

“Slowpokes.”  These are those folks that seem to operate with no urgency whatsoever. In their mind, they can get to any demands when they feel like it. Think of a stereotypical government employee and you’ve nailed “The Slowpoke.” Good people, but no sense of urgency, importance, or responsiveness. Service is a foreign word to them.

What it costs them – At a minimum, these folks aren’t getting promoted. In the extreme cases, when downsizing occurs and “efficiency” comes into play in those decisions, these folks are the first to go. A friend of mine shared a recent experience along those lines. She said that every time she asked this one particular “Slowpoke” to help her prepare for an event (multimedia support was his job), he would usually miss the deadline by nearly a full week and then when he did finally respond, he would say ot her, “I just got your note.  How can I help?” After explaining the event had come and gone, he just shrugged his shoulders. The department was reorganized and he was the first to go.

How to manage them – The trick to the “Slowpokes” is you need to be clear. Give them a goal and explain the “why.” For example, “It is important that everyone sees our department as the most responsive in the entire organization. That will not only allow us all to stand out as stars, but it will help protect all of our jobs. To that end, I have a goal for each of us. I want everyone to be able to respond to service requests within X hours. Can you commit to that?”

If you have a “Slowpoke” in your midst.  Remember these three critical points in managing him / her:

  1. The “what’s in it for them” – the “why.” Get them to see where you are coming from so they don’t think it’s personal
  2. Clarity on what you expect. Make it measurable. If you can’t make it measurable, be careful! Without a lack of clarity, a “Slowpoke” may interpret it as you don’t like him/her and if a “Slowpoke” thinks you don’t like him/her, they will actually go slower! If that is at all possible…
  3. Don’t forget to get them to commit! You need to hear them say it. If you are talking and they are saying nothing, assume they left their body and are on an amazing adventure, flying through lands of chocolate waterfalls and gumdrop houses. You need to hear them say it so you know they are listening.

Now that you’ve mastered “The Slowpoke,” get ready for some of our other more common employee attitude challenges. Coming up in this series of “bad attitude” employees:

“The Grump”
“Not in My Job Description”

I know, I know… You can’t wait!


“My team member has a bad attitude”

“Bad attitude.” We all know what this means. We see it every day when we navigate traffic, call into customer service for help or simply try to get stuff done at work. In each case, the same thing is true – we are doing our best to get something accomplished despite someone else’s bad attitude. At best, those with a bad attitude are unhelpful and irritating obstacles in our daily lives. At worst, they actively try to sabotage anything that we may want to get accomplished. They’ve crossed the line from bad attitude into cancerous. So, what can you do?

This month we are going to take on this dysfunction: “My team member has a bad attitude.” Amongst other things, we’ll address the following:

  • My employee has a bad attitude. What do I do?
  • I’ve got a co-worker who has a bad attitude. What can I do?
  • I’ve got a bad attitude. How do I shake it?
  • What are the signs that their (or your) attitude is beyond repair?

In the end, attitude is all that really matters. Talent is overrated. Attitude isn’t. Keeping your attitude positive keeps you fast-tracking to the top. When attitude turns, it’s the beginning of the end.

So, where’s your attitude headed?