Erase negativity for a healthy working environment

Workplace negativity can dampen the spirits of a team and affect productivity and success. One of the hardest offenders to ignore is the 'fault finder', I suspect you’ll have met one before, recognised by their litany of complaints against management.

Catching the situation before it gets out of hand is essential, but it can be difficult to engage with those who constantly find fault in the workplace.

As a leader, there are some effective strategies that can help you reverse behaviour and encourage a more pleasant work environment and culture. We can split this into actions to perform with the team, and those you address with the individual concerned.


  • Gather insights through observation. Watch and listen to gain the insights to enable constructive feedback. This closeness also serves to keep negativity at bay, as the fault finder's thrives on managers who operate at a distance and are unaware of the mood on the ground.

  • Enlist feedback from the whole team. This can be done through a variety of methods, including asking questions in team meetings and in one-on-ones, as well as 360-degree performance reviews and formal engagement surveys. You’ll build a picture of which individuals and what behaviour is negatively impacting team spirit. It is the collective view we need to seek.

  • Encourage sharing of concerns within the group. Work with the individual and team to be open and create and execute an action plan to fix any issues that are tabled. This changes the dial from team meetings being a forum to complain, to being a space to create change.

  • Be upfront and clear about your expectations when standards of behaviour aren’t communicated and understood. What are our values, get the team to define a positive vocabulary of examples. Celebrate those who live the values, hold accountable those that don't.

Individual Treatment

  • Coach first. Timeliness is important here as you want to do this before the behaviour does irreparable damage to the team culture or to the individual's reputation. Be upfront about the effect of the individual's behaviour on others, the team and the work environment. This can often open their eyes to larger ramifications that they haven’t thought about. On a level closer to home, gently letting them know how their peers and leaders perceive their behaviour can be a good reset button.

  • Escalate to counselling. If the gentle approach above doesn't work, you may need to shift it up a gear. This consists of clear feedback that the behaviour isn't tolerated and communicating the result if they don't change their approach. This could include a Performance Improvement Plan that formally outlines expectations and outcomes. At the conclusion of this process, if there is no improvement and desire to change, you may seriously want to consider exiting the individual involved.

If you have been reading the above and asking yourself whether the situation is really that urgent now, we urge you to take note of two methods to avoid:

  • Shut your ears and hope the complaints will go away. The only way the behaviour will go away on its own is if the individual leaves voluntarily, and by then they'll have sown many seeds of discontent. Alternatively, if they stay, the lack of consequences could fuel the fire for even more fault finding.

  • Asking for their support. This may be sound in theory, but in practise, this plays right into the individual’s game plan. They are likely to reject your plea for support, giving them another topic to brag about in the workplace.

We all want to work in a healthy and positive environment, where team culture is a priority, and we celebrate the positives and deal with any downfalls in a mature and constructive way. It only takes one person to destroy this equilibrium. The good news is that it is often easy to see where this is occurring. Just make sure that you deal with it effectively.