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Combating Workplace Negativity
How many besides me have worked in an environment where people gossiped constantly? How did it feel to work in such a place?
How many besides me have worked with someone who constantly complained about everything? What did you do about that person?
Who but me has worked with people who are affected by every change at work? How did that behavior affect you?
Negativity is a habit. When negativity takes over in a workplace, it becomes part of the culture. Cultural negativity requires a radical restructuring of the entire work environment, and that culture change takes a minimum of five years. The key is to prevent negativity from taking hold in the first place, because the impact of workplace negativity on your business can be devastating. Some business consequences of negativity can be:
· Customer complaints
· Errors and poor work quality
· Increased employee turnover
· Absence and tardiness problems
· Personality conflicts
· Poor morale
· Lack of motivation
· Loss of loyalty to the organization
· Decreased creativity
The effects of negativity are measurable and will affect the bottom line in your business. It will also affect you as a worker, both mentally and physically, at home as well as at work. Workers in a negative, low morale work environment are likely to take their attitude home. Long-term negativity creates a perpetual state of emotional hijacking—the fight-or-flight response, which in turn affects health and relationships.
Ingrained negativity in the workplace is a serious problem that requires a detailed and comprehensive solution that involves long-term planning and commitment to change. In this article, I will give you some insights and tips on how to deal with individual negativity: yours and your co-workers.
Let’s start with our own negativity. How do you recognize when you have gone negative?
· Verbal negativity
· Non-verbal – body language
· Para-language – tone of voice, volume, no speaking at all.
· I’m stuck in this job
· My boss is an idiot
· This place sucks
· My colleague does less and gets paid more
· This new project is really stupid
· I can’t wait for 5:00!
What do you think the effects of this kind of thinking might be on your mental health? How is your physical condition?
Negativity is a choice. Feeling stuck in a job is a choice. Annoying your boss for being a boob is a choice. No one is actually stuck in a job; there are always choices. You can:
· Choose to get another job,
· Stay and make the best of your situation
· Stay and make the worst of it.
When we (and I’ve done this way more than I care to admit) gossip, criticize the boss, talk about how the place we work sucks, we become the least attractive of all people: the victim. We make our workplace even worse for ourselves and for everyone else.
What to do? Instead, become part of the solution. Recognize your own negativity and ask for help. If you’re a manager or business owner, nothing models responsibility better than asking your employees to help you make an attitude change. Tell them individually that you are trying to become more positive, and ask for suggestions. No matter what the answer is, just say “thank you”. Then use the best of the suggestions. Take responsibility for your choice. Then change it. Do this for 21 days, and it will be a habit.
So what if your employee or colleague is the negative one? what do you do then If it’s a colleague you’re not close to, you can listen to that person’s complaints and say something like “that’s an interesting perspective, but I don’t see it that way”, or something like that. Eventually, that person will either stop complaining to you, or give the hint that you want positive, not negative, input.
If the co-worker is a friend, you can address her negativity in a fun way: set out two negativity jars, one for you and one for her. When one of you catches the other saying something negative, a dollar goes into the pot. After 21 days, the person with the least money in the jar gets the proceeds from both jars.
If you are a manager or boss, be very careful to assess attitude when hiring. Listen carefully to what the prospective employee says about his/her former employer. Look for hints of negativity and follow your gut about whether or not to hire that person.
If you have an employee who has gone negative, act quickly. Confer with the person and learn what it is that is causing the change in attitude. Help him/her to recognize the reason for negativity. Sometimes the negativity is justified, and you have to admit it. If possible, discuss ways to resolve any issues that arise in the discussion.
Help this person take responsibility for negativity. Even if there are valid reasons to feel negative, expressing negativity is never appropriate in the workplace. You may not be able to change the way your employee sees the situation, but you can influence behavior during work hours.
Help the person replace negative behaviors with more positive ones. Be specific. Tell the employee exactly what behavior you observed, how it affects the work and people in your workplace. Then describe exactly what you would rather see.
Follow up with feedback on a regular basis, and acknowledge progress toward the new goal.
Sometimes you have no choice but to fire a very negative person. If so, do it before that person has the time and opportunity to infect your workplace. Any delay will cause damage that lasts long after that employee is gone.
In the meantime, model the behavior you want to see in your employees. Everything you do and say as a leader is perceived and internalized by your employees, so be the change you want to see.
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