There are few things that get under employees' skin more than "Debbie Downer" co-workers, new research shows.

A study by leadership development training company Fierce Inc. revealed that negativity trumps gossiping, laziness and passive-aggressiveness as the most detrimental trait a co-worker can exhibit. Overall, nearly 80 percent of employees view a negative attitude — identified as the key trait of a toxic employee — as extremely debilitating to team morale.

The research also shows that employees and management disagree on how to best handle negative-minded employees. More than 60 percent of employees opt to confront toxic co-workers, but 78 percent claim their companies are at least somewhat tolerant of colleagues with negative attitudes.

"Negativity leads to reduced productivity and engagement, and allowing it to fester is much more costly and damaging to an organization's bottom line than confronting or possibly replacing a single toxic employee," said Halley Bock, CEO and president of Fierce Inc. "Organizations must foster employee- and company-level accountability by addressing attitudinal issues as soon as they arise."

Fierce recommends three communication tips for preventing negative attitudes at the office, and for handling someone who has become a toxic employee:

  • Promote accountability: Fostering an environment of personal accountability encourages employees to take responsibility for their outcomes — both positive and negative. It is important to actively seek out opinions and give employees a voice on important decisions affecting the company. It also allows them to understand context and how they contribute to the well-being and overall success of the organization.
  • Offer 365-degree feedback: Don't let more than 48 hours go by when an issue arises. Address an employee's negative attitude before it gets worse, in a short and sweet manner. Don't forget to offer positive feedback as well. Appreciation can motivate and inspire employees, enrich relationships and build a positive workplace culture.
  • Confront the person: When employees don't have a sense of personal accountability — and offering feedback didn't improve the situation — it is important to confront the issue head-on. To start, name the problem, and then give specific examples. Indicate the desire to resolve the matter, and invite the employee to respond. Ask questions to peel back the layers of the issue.

The study was based on surveys of more than 1,000 executives and employees in multiple fields, including health care, retail, manufacturing, education and financial services.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.