How to Combat Workplace Negativity

  • Brace
  • December 4, 2018
  • 8 min

It starts with a spark then spreads through the office. Uncontained workplace negativity can quickly grow out of control and cause a loss of productivity, profits, and increased disengagement. Read on to find out the signs of negativity, ways to counter them, and key takeaways to make a more productive and engaged team.

If There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: Signs of Workplace Negativity

Negativity starts small, perhaps with a conflict between employees, a project gone wrong, or even just a bad day. However, with the right, less than ideal conditions, it has the ability to quickly spread from person to person until the entire workplace is consumed. It’s important to recognize the signs and find workplace issues before a little negativity grows into a large problem for your team and bottom line.

Signs of spreading negativity:

    • Poor communication and team spirit, usually manifesting itself through a tense, lifeless workplace with little conversation or excitement.
    • Increased criticism and gossip, meaning that when coworkers do communicate, they bring up petty things and negative perspectives.

Prevalent micromanagement, which leads employees to feel unimportant, disconnected, and uninspired.

  • Low motivation and engagement, manifesting itself through employees that only give the bare minimum, or even less.
  • Poor discipline and organization, which allows employees or even managers to continue bad habits like showing up late or being distracted.

Fuel for the Flames: Causes of Negativity

No workplace is always positive. Some employees may have outside issues, or others may just not like a particular project. However, if the workplace itself is causing the negativity, then things can quickly get out of hand. Luckily, workplace issues can be addressed to confront negativity and keep it under control.

In the Tower Perrin study Working Today: Exploring Employee’s Emotional Connection To Their Jobs, the researchers surveyed 1,100 employees and 300 HR managers. The results showed key factors of workplace negativity that companies can avoid:

Drivers of Workplace Negativity

  • Excessive workload
  • Doubts about management and their direction and leadership
  • Concerns about the future, job stability, and retirement
  • Unchallenging work and tasks, with little growth opportunities
  • Lack of recognition and appreciation

Fighting the Fallout: Solutions for Workplace Negativity

Whether your workplace is already suffering from widespread negativity, or just showing the first signs, an active plan is needed to improve the mood and to bring up productivity along with it. With these steps, you can start steering your workplace toward better methods and better results.

  1. Get feedback and listen to your employees. Through hearing your employees problems and ideas, and reacting to them, your staff will feel more connected, appreciated, and leadership can make informed steps for improvement.
  2. Identify the source (or sources) of the problem. Investigate what is causing negativity in the workplace, in order to make an informed, effective plan. Employee feedback is a great source for this information.
  3. Take informed action. With the information from employee feedback and identified workplace problems in hand, address these specific issues. Whether it’s a lack of development options or problems with management, an effective strategy will address these problems while making sure employees feel their input is valued.
  4. Develop organizational structures. Improving the larger framework of the workplace makes your effective actions more durable and prevents issues from occurring in the future. Examples include creating better channels for communication, regular feedback, and options for employee development and learning.
  5. Give your team the bigger picture. It goes a long way to improve the workplace if employees can see that their work is needed for a larger purpose. Make sure that the whole team is connected to and informed about company progress and goals, and know how their efforts contribute to achieving them.

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Even the best oiled machine has friction. This is the same in the workplace, and especially when it comes to fixing negativity issues. To make a team or company more positive and productive, leadership has to address issues that are either results of conflict or can easily lead to conflict themselves. But with proper methods, this communication can be defused and facilitate a healthier workplace.


To resolve a conflict…

  • …look for a cause, not a person to blame.
    Humans are prone to error and mistakes will happen. When they do, avoid blaming individuals and instead focus on the issue. This makes problems less personal and employees less defensive, while keeping solutions in reach.
  • …keep the discussion focused on an issue and goal, not personality.
    Conflicts revolve around issues, not people. Work together to address what behavior is causing friction and find solutions, rather than making the issue personal.
  • …address emotions at the beginning, so they don’t become a focus.
    To understand where each side is coming from, it’s important to know what feelings are driving them. By expressing what one feels at the beginning, whether it’s anger, betrayal, or disappointment, this can let everyone in the conversation understand each other and focus on the problem itself.
  • …address issues face to face.
    Personal contact helps both sides remember each other’s humanity, be open to the other person’s perspective, and not blow issues out of proportion. Keep conflict resolution effective by addressing issues in person and with respect.
  • …also admit your mistakes.
    Even if one side is in the wrong, recognizing that both sides made errors builds a common ground and makes criticism feel less like an attack. This level of understanding helps break through defenses and allows both sides be open to solutions.
  • …provide lessons and takeaways from the conversation.
    This gives the meeting value by creating concrete results that can be measured, accomplished, and checked off, thus providing both sides with clarity and awareness about the issues, and the plans to resolve them.
  • …have open communication channels and conflict resolution methods.
    Organizing the workplace to allow for open discussion and safe conflict resolution helps prevent conflicts from getting too big or too personal. These methods, such as digital tools, manager office hours, or anonymous discussion boards, can take time to implement, but pay off in workplace mood and productivity.

Key Takeaways

  • Workplace negativity can start small, but quickly grow and spread through a workplace.
  • Poor workplace mood is more than an inconvenience, as it directly affects productivity and profits.
  • Negativity caused by workplace factors spreads quickly, but can also be addressed through proper actions.
  • Giving and getting feedback can help employees stay connected and leadership to stay on top of developing issues, conflicts, or concerns.
  • Resolving workplace issues is most effective when using face to face, respectful communication that addresses behavior, and not personal traits.

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