Wanted: A Positive Attitude

Executives say negativity drags down performance

By Greg Wright Apr 22, 2013

U.S. employers are not expected to do much new hiring in 2013, but leaders say they want to make sure the people they do bring aboard have a positive attitude and a team spirit.

That’s because, according to two new studies, employers are concerned that if they hire a negative person, that employee’s bad mojo will infect the workplace like a flu virus.

“Negativity can quickly become contagious in an organization and drag performance,” said Robyn Greenspan, chief content officer at ExecuNet, a Norwalk, Conn., company that specializes in executive employment, retention, recruitment and human capital trends. Almost 88 percent of 3,785 senior-level executives surveyed by ExecuNet said they would offer a job to a person who is more positive—even if he or she did not perform to the highest level or have top qualifications.

“B players with great attitudes can likely become A players in the right environment,” Greenspan observed.

A survey from Right Management, a Philadelphia-based talent and career management workforce-solutions company, shows that employers are beginning to shake off the lingering pessimism of the Great Recession of 2009.

Fifty-two percent of 650 U.S. executives who participated in the survey said 2013 will be a year of growth and recovery marked by more investment in developing talent.

However, actual hiring is not expected to be so robust in the United States, said Gerald Purgay, Right Management’s senior vice president. Purgay said 56 percent of the executives his firm contacted predicted limited hiring to fill specific openings, while only a third said hiring will increase somewhat.

Attracting Positive People

So how can you, as an HR professional, ensure that the people you hire will have the right attitude, fit into your company’s culture and stick around?

Human resource experts said there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood of selecting a winner.

The American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) studied how General Mills, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Schlumberger Ltd. and Caterpillar Inc. attract good job applicants in the competitive science, technology, math and engineering markets and retain those employees.

Schlumberger, a global oilfield-services company, offers internships that run from a few days to a few weeks to see how job candidates work on a daily basis, said Elissa Tucker, SPHR, research program manager of human capital management at the APQC. This gives the company more confidence that it is offering the job to the person who is best suited to it, she said.

Others companies begin introducing prospective hires to the corporate culture and key people they will work with as soon as the recruitment process starts, Tucker said. Case in point: IBM uses “socialization mentors”—that is, people who give recruits advice on how to navigate office politics and find the right colleagues to help them complete assignments.

“They are planting that retention seed the moment they start talking to potential candidates,” Tucker said.

Jay Forte, founder of The Greatness Zone, coaches organizations on how to attract, hire and retain a great workforce. He is also the author of “Fire Up! Your Employees” (Expert Publishing, 2009).

Forte recommends hiring individuals who fit the job description. He suggests using behavioral-based interviewing techniques to determine whether the candidate has the job’s required skills.

Although skill and experience are important, employees will eventually leave a job if they feel they no longer fit in.

Good employees master their jobs quickly, Forte said, so change things up from time to time to expand what they know and are exposed to. Companies should also offer career development, training and other professional development opportunities, he said.

Other tips Forte offered include treating employees like family, making sure they know you care about them, keeping staff abreast of the latest corporate developments and welcoming their opinions.

“Remember, they are a powerful group with thoughts, ideas, questions and answers that can help make your organization even better,” he said.

Shift Focus to Management

To make sure you have positive people working for you and to retain them, you should shift the focus to management, advised Chris Sabado, founder of Emerge, a Westchester, N.Y.-based leadership- and team-development firm.

Companies should develop managers and leaders whom people want to work for, Sabado said. These managers should also be trained in good emotional intelligence so they interact with staff in more uplifting ways.

Such managers are more likely to attract and keep good people, he said.

“Managers have such a huge impact on their employees’ job satisfaction that when an employee leaves the company, it is often because of their boss,” Sabado noted. “The best and brightest leave in pursuit of a better work environment.”

Greg Wright is a Maryland-based freelance writer who has covered Congress, consumer electronics and international trade for major news organizations.

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