How to Deal With a Debbie Downer Employee


Every day, there’s another complaint. Every communication is negative. Every decision provides an excuse to criticize.

And it’s becoming a distraction. The grumbling and dissent take up valuable time, cutting into productivity. Meanwhile, the negative attitude brings down the general vibe of the office.

A Debbie Downer employee can turn into the unfortunate focal point of the workplace. Even if no one else agrees with the complaints, it becomes the starting point for most of the discussion. It’s important to deal with the situation and restore a positive environment.

Here are the steps you should follow to deal with the situation, while remaining fair and composed:

Figure out If They Speak for the Staff as a Whole

A negative employee might be a lonely discontent. But they might also present a canary-in-the-coalmine signal about the overall attitude of the staff.

Is the person a lone voice or just an outspoken advocate for all workers? You need to find out before figuring out your next move.

Consider If Their Complaints Are Justified

An annoying presentation can sometimes obscure a legitimate message. Your negative worker might be going about affecting change in a less-than-diplomatic way, but that doesn’t make them wrong.

Before taking steps to escalate the situation, review the substance of the complaints. If they contain some merit, try to fix them.

Look at Your Own Attitude

Sometimes an employee’s negative attitude derives from the general office culture. You play a big role in making that culture, so it may be time to ask yourself: “Am I overly negative?”

Review your management style and see if you rely too heavily on complaints and negative communication. If so, it might be fostering a situation where negativity seems acceptable.

Talk to the Employee

Once you’ve determined the extent of the employee’s support and investigated the merits of their complaint, your next step is to discuss the situation directly with “Debbie Downer.”

If you feel their complaint should lead to a modification in policy, explain you are making the necessary change. Also, let the discontent employee know that next time, you’d prefer a more constructive approach to achieving change.

If you’ve found their complaints are without merit, calmly and constructively discuss the situation. Let them know their behavior is causing a problem and it needs to change.

Create Consequences and a Timeline

Hopefully, the mere act of discussing the situation will diffuse the problem. Oftentimes, pointing out bad behavior creates enough incentive for them to change the behavior.

However, if the troublesome employee doesn’t get the hint, you need to set concrete expectations and enforce consequences if they aren’t met. Don’t be hasty or rash. (You don’t want any in-office drama.) But let them know what you consider acceptable behavior and warn them you’ll take action if necessary.

Take Action

You’ve talked to the offending employee and warned them they needed to change their behavior. However, they remain as negative and obstinate as ever. Unfortunately, it’s time to take action.

Follow the disciplinary plan you set up previously. Hopefully, it won’t come to termination. But if there is no other choice, don’t hesitate to get rid of the problem employee.

If you provided them the opportunity to change their behavior, then the consequences are on them if they keep it up. Plus, their attitude is likely annoying to other employees as well. Everyone else might be thankful to have the distraction removed.

Disciplinary situations become much less of a problem when you have top-flight employees to start with. A recruiting firm can help you bring in the motivated, competent go-getters you need to help your company grow. Contact DHR today to find out more.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)