Mood hoovers: How to prevent them and what to do about them!

Do you have an individual in your workplace that constantly grumbles and brings everyone else down? Or perhaps you have more than one, and you want to stop it becoming a contagion! We asked two of our portfolio HR Directors, Helen Witt and Barbara Johnson, for tips on converting a mood hoovers negative behaviour into positive.

Screen them out at the recruitment stage

Prevention is better than cure, says Helen Witt, who recommends using your recruitment process to prevent you hiring mood hoovers people in the first place. ‘Try and understand what kind of mindset they have,’ she says. ‘Ask them how they’ve previously dealt with difficult situations at work or a high pressure situation to see what coping strategies they use.’

Don’t over-sell the job

Another preventative measure at recruitment stage is to be clear about the role and not over-inflate expectations. ‘You can recruit people with a positive mindset – who then feel let down if they feel they were sold an opportunity which isn’t the reality,’ Helen explains.

Nip negativity in the bud

If it’s too late to do either of the above, then ‘mood hoover’ behaviour will require swift intervention from their line manager. ‘If this behaviour continues unchecked, the whole team can be affected, because behaviour is infectious,’ says Barbara Johnson, who recommends training for managers to gain confidence in having those tricky conversations.

Listen to their gripes

The first thing is to understand what is causing that person’s negativity – by simply asking them. ‘They may have a valid point,’ Helen says. ‘If you can address the problems they raise, it might make a difference. Some people can seem negative when actually they really care about what’s happening in the business. Those ones are worth holding on to.’

Tell them how their behaviour affects colleagues

Many grumblers don’t realise the effect their behaviour has on other people. ‘I’ve had situations where people moan constantly but if you ask if they like working there, they say they love it!’ says Helen. Barbara has also seen this type of reaction. ‘They’ll say “Really? Why didn’t you tell me before?!” Recognising the symptoms is half of the problem.’

Show what great behaviour looks like

At this point it’s worth telling your mood hoover what great behaviour looks like and give examples of being interactive and proactive. ‘As well as airing their problems, encourage them to come up with solutions,’ says Helen. ‘That makes their job more interesting, too.’

Keep the dialogue going

It’s important to keep talking after that initial conversation to keep the negativity at bay. ‘You want them to have enough trust so they feel able to be honest with you,’ says Helen. ‘They might be going through hard times at home and need space. But you only know those things if you have a good relationship with them.’

When it becomes a disciplinary issue

If the individual has been made aware of their behaviour and its impact on others and still fail to change, it’s time to start a new message. ‘That’s the point where you say, “change your behaviour or you will be managed on it”,’ says Barbara.

‘Using humour can help call them out in a light-hearted way if they start to revert to old habits, depending on the relationship that the manager has with their team. Managers tend to put up with an awful lot for a quiet life, but once you show them how to address it, it can be a revelation!’ Do you have an organisation full of mood hoovers?

Our next article will look at how to introduce a positive attitude across your business.

Helen Witt Barbara Johnson
Helen Witt, People Director  Barbara Johnson, People Director

If you need help with how to manage any mood hoovers within your business, contact us today or call us on 0808 164 5826.

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