Dealing With the Office “Debbie Downer”

June 7th, 2012

Take a minute to think about the cast of characters that make up your staff. You can probably find labels for each one: jokester, quiet one, mother hen, and geek. Unfortunately, one of the most common types of personality is that of the “Debbie Downer” – male or female. You can build a picture in your head of what this person brings to the office. A cloud of negativity swirls around her desk, and a pessimistic outlook comes through every time she talks.

Managers have to deal with this in the same way that they would deal with insubordinate or unproductive employees. The office “Debbie Downer” is potentially just as destructive to the morale and productivity of a company.  So, what can you do about it? That individual still has the benefit of experience with the company and skills that may be hard to replace. And, getting rid of an employee like this may impact office morale even further, setting it in a downward spiral that would be difficult to recover from. Consider this advice to reduce the impact of gloomy employees and turn their frowns upside-down.

Start by identifying any employees who you would put into the “downer” category. You should be able to figure out whether her attitude is part of her personality, or if it’s being caused by something external. Be compassionate. Perhaps she is dealing with issues outside of work, like a sick parent or a child’s medical issue, that has drawn her into a depression. You may not be able to do anything directly to help her, but make sure that she is aware of company and community resources that may help.

If her pessimism is related to something in your company, try to determine if reasonable changes are in order. Is her workload heavier than everyone else’s in her department? Maybe there is a way to equalize the workloads to be fairer. Has she been passed over for a promotion or raise? Make sure to communicate what steps she can take to earn that next promotion. That part of your job isn’t just dealing with an office downer – it’s being a good manager, and making sure your employees are proud of the work they do.

Resistance to change is a hallmark of the typical Debbie Downer. As you work with your employee to improve their attitude, you may find her putting up roadblocks to that progress. Anticipate those obstacles and find ways to engage your employee in trying to find a solution, For example, say you want to introduce a new computer system. The Debbie Downer might say “it won’t work, we’ve tried it before.” With that expected reaction, offer that she would offer great insight into what happened in the past, and would she be willing to work on making that system successful?

Remember that a positive attitude does wonders to counter a negative one. Make sure you demonstrate and communicate optimism to your staff.

Olympic Staffing understands the challenges of working with many different personality types in a business. Contact our office today to see how we can help you work through those challenges.