Difficult Conversations About Attitude

Shawnee Love   •   November 14, 2019

Talking with an employee about attitude makes it on our difficult conversations blog series, because attitude is so subjective.

Most employers say they want employees with a good attitude or a positive attitude but what that actually means differs by boss let alone by company.

If attitude is important to you, my first recommendation is to be clear on what attitude you want. Go so far as to define the behaviours that would be good and poor examples of the attitude to help you assess your future hires against.  Then, only hire people who demonstrate the type of attitude you desire. I make this recommendation, because attitude is somewhat set in people by the time they hit working age.  i.e., how positive they are or how argumentative or how kind are pretty established by the time they come to be in your employ. If you find people who already align with your expectations on attitude, there is a much greater likelihood they will find it easy to display that attitude while working with you.

One caveat.  Sensitive things like age, gender, and culture of origin affect our attitude towards work and yet are protected grounds under Human Rights legislation.  As employers, we aren’t supposed to discriminate on those grounds and thus, we have to be really sure what we are asking for is reasonable and non-discriminatory before we go forth and seek people with that attitude.

Now what happens if you hire for attitude and have someone who has had a great attitude, yet you have recently noticed a change?

In this case, before determining how to handle the situation, you really need to understand what’s behind the change. Someone bored with their job will need a different resolution than someone who feels undervalued and they both need different resolutions from someone who is dealing with significant personal challenges and is overwhelmed.

As with all prickly topics, start by having a private conversation with the person.  To set the stage, ensure the person knows you are to be trusted and that you have his or her best interests at heart.  Of course, you also have to do your job and protect the organization’s interests, but if the employee realizes you are trying to help, you have a greater likelihood of getting to the heart of the issue and finding a constructive way forward.

I hope that helps.  Any questions about how to navigate this type of conversation, we are here to help!