Chasing the Silver Lining: How to Overcome Negativity in the Workplace

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Oct 30, 2019
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how to overcome negativity in the workplace

We’re all human. Even the most stoic among us have emotions, positive or negative. Inevitably, despite some of our best attempts at compartmentalization, those highs and lows of emotion find their way into the workplace. Work can thrive on swells of positivity, but bouts of negativity pose a serious threat. Occasional negativity is natural, but if your workplace is constantly enshrouded by negative employee talk, that’s a problem.

Consequences of Negativity in the Workplace

People don’t work solely for money—ideally, they expect work to provide them with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. They use it as a gauge to evaluate where they are in their lives. The workplace is also the place employees expect to spend the most time outside of the home. So, if an employee comes day in and day out to a workplace that is always clouded by negativity, that individual’s sense of wellbeing is at risk. Morale declines and mental illness becomes a growing concern, leading to its own slew of health risks. Suddenly, good employees you expected to stick around are leaving because of the toxic environment, increasing turnover.

You don’t want your business to be that business. The good thing is, it doesn’t have to be.

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8 Ways to Reduce Negativity in the Workplace

It’s important to remember that there is no “one size fits all” solution to negativity in the workplace. Still, we’ve identified some strategies you can implement within your organization that are likely to prove helpful. Take the time to consider the list below to give you and your employees an essential pick-me-up.

  1. Identify the Source.

    Negativity is a common response to stress or anxiety, so first try and find out what might be stressing your employees out. Talk privately with your employees or supervisors to get a better read on the situation. Encourage employees to speak up about any frustrations. If the source of stress or anxiety is outside of work, then there might not be much you can do, but it’s a toxic employee or policy causing trouble, then you can act on that information.

  2. Keep an Open Mind.

    While talking privately with your employees, they might offer up suggestions about policy changes they think will make work more positive. You don’t have to enact everything you hear, but employees might have an idea that could work or one you simply have not thought of at that point.

  3. It’s not Personal.

    If your investigation uncovers frustration with yourself or management of your business in general, do your best not to take the information personally. People with managerial positions in a company often receive blame and scrutiny even when the problem doesn’t lie with. Resist the urge to fight frustration with angry comments that will only feed the cycle of negativity. Instead, remain calm, listen, and respond in a way that keeps the atmosphere peaceful. Consult with HR personnel for advice if your emotions are too strong to deal with the situation tactfully at that time.

  4. Make Time for Group Communication.

    Have managers set meetings to have an open forum amongst team members. While you should be careful with such meetings if there is a specific employee creating toxicity, opening communication up in a group setting can help foster a sense of teamwork and uncover possibilities for how employees might be able to encourage one another.Toxic Employees: You've Identified One at Your Business, Now What
  5. Find the Positive Hiding in the Negative.

    Here are your silver linings. When speaking with employees privately or in a group setting, try to reframe any negative statements that come up. This can be tricky since you still want to be honest and fair, but it’s important to direct conversation in a productive manner. If an employee complains about how vacations are coordinated, for instance, you might thank the employee for bringing that issue up and introducing an opportunity to rethink vacation scheduling.

  6. Positivity Starts with the Hiring Process.

    Since it can be difficult to change a specific employee’s attitude, begin looking for issues while you’re still in the interviewing stage. Pay attention to a candidate’s attitude and temperament in addition to their qualifications. Sometimes it’s far easier to hone develop an employee’s skillset after onboarding than it is to change their attitude once they have started.

  7. Talk During Onboarding.

    Discuss expectations and responsibilities during onboarding, but also check in with employees every few weeks to see how they are feeling about work. Short conversations with employees can catch problems early-on, letting you step in before problems grow and become difficult to manage.

  8. Don’t Stifle.

    Lastly, your employees shouldn’t feel as if they can never say anything negative. Constant negativity is a problem, yes, but it’s also important for your employees to feel as if they can speak their mind. You want your workplace to be genuinely happy instead of employees remaining silent about frustration. It’s a difficult task, but with time and concerted effort, your workplace can become the positive, open environment it should be.

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