Almost everyone has experienced the challenges associated with a negative coworker and/or employee. Typical behaviors include:

  • Gossiping that causes conflict and/or ill will among staff
  • Complaining, and never being pleased with decisions or comments made
  • Criticizing, and exaggerating mistakes made by others
  • Disrespectful comments and/or passive aggressive behaviors when given a task
  • Arguing rather than compromising or finding ways to settle disagreements
  • Goofing off, not helping when coworkers need assistance
  • Any other comments or actions that affect the morale of people who works at the practice – and/or that damage client relationships and/or hurt the practice overall

Some negative people are blatant about their behaviors, which draws them out into the open and makes it easier, usually, to deal with the negativity. Too often, though, these behaviors are subtle. And, to quote the article titled Dealing with acidic attitudes: Help for your managers, “They’re frequently pretty good at their jobs, so they’re not called on the carpet too often. But like a virus running in the background of a computer program, their acidic personalities eat away at the goals – and ultimately the bottom line – of the company week after week, year after year” (Gould, 2015).
Gould continues by listing four key questions to ask yourself when dealing with negative behaviors:

  • What’s the impact of the employee’s behavior?
  • How do the person’s actions differ from the standards set for overall employee behavior?
  • What’s the effect of this individual’s behavior on the people who work with him/her?
  • If this person acted according to our accepted standards, could it make a difference in morale and productivity?

Once you have clarity about what, specifically, the person is doing that is causing dissention and what, specifically, the impact appears to be on the practice – what next?

If a normally upbeat staff member shows signs of negativity, perhaps he or she is dealing with a challenging problem outside of the office – maybe financial issues, health problems or family disputes. Or perhaps the normally cheerful employee is feeling overwhelmed with workload. That’s not who we’re talking about here and, with these individuals, a heart to heart talk and an offer of help can often diffuse or resolve the situation. Instead, we’re focusing on staff members who demonstrate an ongoing pattern of negativity.

Veterinary Practice News says that policies against gossiping or spreading rumors should be part of a signed job description. A ban on other negative behaviors could also be included. And then, if someone acts in a negative way, you can meet with that person to discuss concerns, using the written policies as a starting point and a benchmark. Ask the employee how he or she thinks the issues can be resolved. Discuss concerns in private to avoid embarrassing anyone and keep an open mind because this person may have useful suggestions and helpful insights. Be straightforward in your approach and take any good recommendations seriously.

If that doesn’t work, here is the hardline approach taken in the article. “Ultimately, if the employee’s negative attitude continues, let her know that if she is not happy she should go elsewhere. This is not only for the good of the practice but for her peace of mind as well. After all, who wants to work somewhere if you don’t enjoy it? Most of the time the person will agree and look for another position; if not, initiate dismissal. Staff morale should improve immediately” (Rothstein, 2009).

In-between steps

Advice given by Veterinary Practice News gives an overview that shares early steps to take – meaning, the written policies against negative behaviors – along with the most dramatic conclusion, but in-between steps exist. These steps include:

  • For first-time problems, a verbal discussion or warning is usually sufficient, with the verbal warning documented in the employee’s file
  • If the issue is serious enough, a second offense is cause for a documented and signed written warning – with the third offense resulting in termination.

Here’s more of the hardline approach from Veterinary Practice News. “Staff are hard to come by these days, and most managers hesitate before firing someone. However, keep in mind that dismissal of an employee who is not an ideal match is better for the practice and staff” (Rothstein, 2009).

Nobody wants to reach that point, of course, and a proactive approach can help ward it off. Here are more specifics.

Developing a positive culture

If you aren’t currently having to deal with any negative staff, good for you! There are still steps that you should take, though, to ensure an ongoing positive environment.

DVM360 magazine suggests the following. “Your staff must know what is on your mind. Veterinarians tend to be internal thinkers. Employees are not mind-readers, although they may try to figure out what they are missing by piecing together clues. While you may have a broad set of concepts and principles in your mind, your staff may only be witness to a single application and thus miss the big picture” (Snyder, 2002). Snyder also points out the importance of showing respect to your staff and investing time and energy into learning more about them.

Ultimately, this will lead to a more positive environment at the practice, which benefits the staff and the clients, and the practice, overall.


Gould, Tim, “Dealing with acidic attitudes: Help for your managers,” HR Morning, March 25, 2015,

Krenek, Christina, “Attitude Check: Tips to Manage Difficult Employees with Bad Atittudes,” Profiles International, May 22, 2012,

Rothstein, Jeff, “Managing Human Resources Within The Veterinary Practice,” Veterinary Practice News. April 17, 2009,

Snyder, Gerald, “Communicate positive attitude to staff,” Veterinary News, May 1, 2002,

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