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Sooner or later, virtually all businesses experience issues with workplace negativity. Sometimes these issues stem from personality conflicts among coworkers, a lack of clearly defined roles for employees, or discontent over pay and benefits. Other times negativity creeps into the workplace due to managerial decisions like rearranging department hierarchies, laying off employees, or making overtime mandatory. Whatever the cause, negativity in the workplace can gradually grow into a significant problem for organizations unless measures are taken to address the problem. Read on to learn more about the fundamentals of workplace negativity, how it can harm operations, and what business leaders can do to resolve the situation.

Common Examples of Workplace Negativity

Workplace negativity can manifest itself in any number of ways. To effectively confront the problem, supervisors and managers should learn how to recognize the warning signs of conflict or discontentment the moment they arise. Here are a few typical examples of how workplace negativity may take shape.

Personality Conflicts and Power Struggles

It’s not uncommon for people with opposing views to develop an adversarial relationship in the workplace, and if these individuals maintain a role of authority, this conflict can rapidly expand into entire departments becoming at odds with one another. For example, the supervisor of the shipping department may have a disagreement with the team leader of the sales department regarding a recent product order for a major client. This verbal exchange later results in the shipping supervisor abruptly resigning, leaving his staff suddenly understaffed and overworked.

Communication Breakdowns

Unresolved resentments in the workplace can also lead to systemic communication issues between employees. Given time, this lack of clear communication can lead to a culture of gossip, distrust, and even blame. This situation can create divisions within the workplace that undermines teamwork and operational efficiency. 

For instance, an employee may send an email to a supervisor to clarify a few details on a work order. After several weeks, the email remains unanswered, so the employee decides to escalate the problem to the business owner directly. Later, the supervisor is contacted by the business owner and asked why this issue wasn’t resolved earlier. In response, the supervisor admonishes his employee for breaching the chain of command, and going forward, that worker becomes much more reluctant to openly discuss concerns with those in management positions.

Passive-Aggressive Behaviors

Negativity in the workplace can also facilitate more passive aggressiveness among employees, especially when workers feel removed from important decision-making processes. For example, a long-term employee may be passed up for promotion to be the new team leader, and instead, the position is given to a recently hired individual with less experience. In response, the seasoned worker deliberately procrastinates on job duties or attempts to sabotage workflows due to his or her negative feelings about the new supervisor. Alternatively, the employee may simply adopt a somber attitude or demonstrate a sudden lack of interest in the job that could potentially influence the opinions and mindsets of others.

How Workplace Negativity Impacts a Business

Workplace negativity can affect a business in several harmful ways. Even if only one or two employees exhibit negative behaviors, the issue can quickly spread to other individuals in the workplace, including those in supervisory or managerial positions. Here are three common ways negativity can impact the health of an organization.

Poor Morale

When negativity begins to take root in a work environment, the overall morale of employees may begin to gradually deteriorate. According to an article from the University of Wisconsin Health, both positive and negative feelings tend to spread from person to person just like a virus, potentially altering the perceptions of entire groups. As negative thoughts and emotions take hold of workers, their productivity starts to decline which can have major ramifications for an organization’s long-term success. When morale is low, tension among coworkers also increases, leading to problems like poor coordination between departments and higher rates of absenteeism.

Diminished Performance

The attitudes and perceptions of employees also have a direct impact on the overall performance of individuals in the workplace. According to a research paper, up to 10% of workers who struggle with negativity experience a 30& decline in their job performance. In short, unhappy employees are less likely to go the extra mile, and as negativity spreads among the workforce, this reduced output can have a dramatic effect on output.

Higher Turnover

Another damaging symptom of workplace negativity is an increase in turnover rates. Employees that feel unhappy with their jobs are much more likely to seek employment elsewhere, even at the expense of a higher salary. A recent article by the MIT Sloan Management Review found that individuals are over 10 times more likely to leave a job due to a toxic work environment than for reasons associated with their compensation.

5 Effective Ways to Handle Workplace Negativity Issues

Negativity in the workplace doesn’t need to be an insurmountable obstacle. In reality, there are several simple yet effective ways to improve the attitudes of employees and ultimately foster a healthier work environment for everyone. Here are five simple approaches to resolving workplace negativity problems.

1. Encourage Feedback From Employees                        

In many cases, workers develop negative emotions about their jobs when they feel like their thoughts or opinions aren’t valued. Take the time to concisely communicate to employees that their feedback is important by providing different avenues for workers to share their perspectives. Consider creating a kind of anonymous suggestion box for workers to vent their concerns or encourage employees to fill out questionnaires every quarter to get a sense of the prevailing sentiments of the workforce. It can also be helpful to create an open-door policy that allows employees to discuss issues with a supervisor directly instead of bottling up negativity until it evolves into an argument, conflict, or sudden resignation.

2. Empower Positive Workers With Recognition and Accolades

Another way to confront workplace negativity is to award positive employees for their ongoing contributions to the company. Doing this will not only reinforce positivity on the job but also encourage workers struggling with negative emotions to recognize the benefits of having a healthier mindset. Consider starting an employee-of-the-month program or providing gift cards to workers who maintain a consistently positive frame of mind while on the job. As workers begin to see that being happy and enthusiastic offers rewards, they will be far more likely to maintain a positive attitude in the future.

3. Foster a Company Culture That Values Mental Wellbeing

Think about promoting a corporate culture that puts a premium on values like compassion, integrity, teamwork, and mental health. Although profit and growth are important aspects of any successful business, make it clear to employees that maintaining a positive outlook takes precedence over all other concerns. If needed, consider offering free mental health services to the workforce or partner with a professional counselor to offer one-on-one services to employees who need support. It may also be helpful to schedule team-building days where workers can come together to enjoy a free meal, play games, and take a break from the stresses of the job.

4. Speak With Negative Employees in a Safe and Private Setting

If there is a particular employee who continues to bring negativity into the workplace, put some time aside to speak with them about the feelings they’re experiencing and how the issue could be resolved. For best results, speak to the worker in a private setting where they can feel secure in speaking their mind without judgment or repercussions. After all, some employees may harbor negative emotions because they don’t feel there’s any safe way to express their views to those in leadership roles within the business. Be sure to express to unhappy workers that their concerns matter and that there are resources available to help them navigate the issues they’re experiencing.

5. Lead by Example

One of the best ways to confront workplace negativity is to simply lead by example. The great spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi once said “Become the change you wish to see in the world,” and this advice certainly applies to changing the perceptions of employees. Remember, the attitudes of people are often directly impacted by the demeanors and actions of others, so demonstrating positivity in action on the job is an excellent way to improve the moods of the workforce at large.

How Resourcing Edge Can Help

At Resourcing Edge, we provide businesses with the tools and support they need to remain successful. We provide a comprehensive suite of services to streamline everything from payroll processes to HR services, compliance reporting, and on-demand, direct-hire recruiting. To simplify employee administration, our PEO services help to put everything into perspective by creating a single point of contact for all your business needs, supported by a dedicated team of experts who have the knowledge and experience required to resolve problems the moment they arise. 

With our help, business leaders can free up more time, money, and resources to focus more on long-term growth instead of getting caught up in the minutiae that can slow down productivity. When you’re ready to learn more, contact Resourcing Edge to get started.

Jami Beckwith

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