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How Should a Pet Business Owner Handle Negative Employees?

Suzi also must keep his attitude from spreading.




A MORNING SCAN OF Facebook showed a post about an online pet store that donated products to a local animal rescue. Suzi was happy to see the news. She knew how much help they need for the pets in their care and regularly donates as well.

As the morning went on, Julia, a regular who is on the rescue’s board, came in with her dog.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.


Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at .

“Morning, Suzi!”

“Morning, Julia!” Suzi leaned over the counter to hand her pup a treat. “Morning, Dakota. Here ya go.”

Julia said, “Did you hear the news about the donation?”

“I saw it on Facebook. It’s awesome,” Suzi replied.

“We are thrilled,” Julia exclaimed. “We have never had such a big donation before.”

As she continued on about the online pet store’s generosity, Suzi smiled and handed Dakota’s leash to Sean, who gave Suzi a near eye-roll and then walked the dog back to day care.

“OK, Julia, same time for pickup for today?” Suzi asked.


“Yes, see you later on, and Dakota was a bit gassy this morning — so maybe fewer treats today.”

“You got it,” Suzi assured. “I will let everyone know. Have a good day!”

Sean returned and said, “Boy, Julia really went on and on about that donation. We have done so much for the rescue. What’s the big deal?”

“She was just happy about it,” Suzi said. “It’s a good thing.”

“But doesn’t that make you angry? You have given so much over the years, and never has she made such a big deal of it. We are a local business — Julia should be that vocal every time we help out,” Sean said.

As Suzi went about her day, she started to feel down about what Sean had said. He was right. She has donated a lot of money and products to the rescue over the years, and even encouraged staff to volunteer with the group.

But what really bothered Suzi was the way Sean, her top employee, often tried to make her feel like people were against her. He would bring up something and point out the negative — instead of recognizing the good.

She had discussed with him how doing that was not useful or helpful, but he didn’t heed her direction.

At the end of the day, as Julia was leaving with Dakota, Suzi heard two of her other employees chatting about the donation and how much she and her team have done without such accolades. They then mocked Julia and the rescue. Suzi could feel her blood pressure rising.

The Big Questions

  • How should Suzi handle her top employee’s negative attitude?
  • If one person’s behavior is affecting the entire staff, what should she do?
  • How could Suzi get the rescue to make a bigger deal of her donations in the future?
Ramie G.

Suzi should get rid of Sean ASAP. Negativity is toxic and highly contagious. I try to see the good in folks, but after dealing with a few of these employees, letting it go and chalking it up to them being unhappy people, it was like the light came on: They can be your best salespeople but take down the whole store. It creates drama and discontent, and no matter how you try to lift them up, their feet are in concrete. Every staffer, every customer will see how unhappy they are. Sean will only make Suzi’s job harder and the environment such that she won’t want to be in her own space. Suzi is not Sean’s parent; she is his employer and has to think about how he affects her business.

Dawn T.

Suzi should handle her employee’s negative attitude by reminding him that they don’t donate for publicity, but for the joy of helping animals. Julia is publicly thanking Suzi by trusting her with her dog and supporting her business. Maybe next time, Suzi could do her own Facebook post on how much she donated and how it makes her and her staff happy to help. It could even encourage others to donate.

Frank F.

The biggest problem here is how one team member’s pessimistic viewpoint would give Suzi self doubt and hurt feelings. If her company’s mission includes serving the community, I would think it would be without expectations of awards, accolades or acknowledgements, thereby Sean’s comments would have no effect on her. She should laser focus on her mission and demand that everyone demonstrably commits to it as well. The rest is superfluous.

Kayla S.

If Suzi wants to make a big deal about donations, she can create a social media post or in-store photo op with the rescue. She doesn’t know if they praise her to others or not, but in my experience, they do.

Matthew O.

A negative attitude in the store can greatly affect what many of us pride ourselves on: a welcoming, inclusive, friendly environment unlike so many other retail experiences! In this case, with other staff being involved, I would have a brief meeting to discuss how we’re not to denigrate anyone for being grateful or promoting how kind a competitor was to them, especially with a rescue that can always use more. We can be proud of the work we do to help, but understand that as a smaller entity, we won’t be able to offer the same donations, and that’s OK; we are still helping the animals, period. Also I would speak to the employee privately and recommend a change in thought process. We should be happy for the rescue and celebrate with them. It’s not a competition.

Brett F.

First, Sean gets one more warning, and then he can take his negativity elsewhere. If the attitude is contagious, and in this scenario it is, that’s bad for morale and productivity. The warning needs to be firm and a reminder that he’s not irreplaceable. Second, Suzi should have a staff meeting and address it again without pointing fingers. If someone steps up to argue, they’re fired. Third, Suzi should reach out to the rescue and ask that they do their best to mention her store multiple times on multiple platforms when donations are made. While we love helping, we love it when rescues tag and thank us on social media. It draws more business, which can mean bigger future donations for the rescue.

Angela P.

Eye-rolling is a problem. It implies that the employee thinks Suzi feels the same way, and could be seen by the pup’s owner. Not good on many levels! A demotion, shift change or a dismissal is fine — it’s Suzi’s business! I’ve had to let “good” employees go if they no longer were the right fit. I’ve rolled up my sleeves, modeled the job role correctly and regained the respect of staff. The change also may enliven other workers, and perhaps encourage others to step up.

What’s the Brain Squad?

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