Bad attitudes in business are highly contagious and can spread faster than a cruise ship virus

It’s a given in business that attitude can make the difference between success or failure, winning or losing, and an employee’s satisfaction or perpetual lack thereof.

What everyone doesn’t know, however, is how to effectively deal with that employee who seems to turn sour, becoming a thorn in everyone’s side and accomplishing little or nothing.

I have never had an employee who woke up in the morning, drove to work and couldn’t wait to do a bad job and make others’ lives difficult. Virtually everyone begins with high expectations about the opportunity, the company and the colleagues with whom he or she will work.

When an employee does seem to be a bit “off,” it can be a temporary case of getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Others, including the boss, hope that by tomorrow everything will go back to normal.

But that’s not always the case, and unfortunately, there can be a cascading effect when an employee’s negative attitude begins to spread to others faster than a cruise ship virus.

If you’re the boss, the time then comes to take decisive action. The first step is to attempt to isolate the catalyst that triggered the problem. You must rule out an exogenous matter beyond your control. If that’s not the case, it’s likely a byproduct from something that was germinated within the company.

The best antidote is to figuratively look in a mirror and quickly determine if you unknowingly triggered this troublesome behavior. Did you ask the questionable performer to do something that seemed arbitrary or retaliatory — work the weekend — without an adequate explanation? On reflection (pun intended), perhaps you asked someone to do something, but you neglected to explain why. Maybe you were even trying to spare the person worry and didn’t tell them that everything was hitting the fan and you needed added research and analysis “yesterday.”

Maybe you’re a repeat offender and habitually don’t provide the rationale for a disruption from the norm. This starts a domino effect, especially if the employee lacks the confidence to challenge you. After a few perceived bad deeds, the associate either subconsciously or, even worse, deliberately retaliates, manifesting a jaundiced coping mechanism that spreads and detrimentally affects others. Suddenly, everything from the simplest tasks to major undertakings take on jagged edges and are painful for all.

If you’re blameless, then it’s up to you to determine what is causing the problem.

Without your intervention in short order, poor attitudes take root and eventually become the modus operandi of how work gets done in the company — or likely doesn’t.

Attitude issues are usually a two-way street and frequently the perpetrator might not even be aware of the damage being done. When it becomes clear the issue isn’t going away, it’s time to pick up the mirror and look at yourself. Then, turn it around so that the afflicted worker can reflect on the problem and how it can be rectified. There are always causes and effects, and it’s the boss’s responsibility to quickly determine the former and control the latter.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide.