Leadership Resources: Article Library
Tips for Minimizing Workplace Negativity
By Susan M. Heathfield
Nothing affects employee morale more insidiously than persistent workplace negativity. It saps the energy of your organization and diverts critical attention from work and performance. Negativity occurs in the attitude, outlook, and talk of one department member, or in a crescendo of voices responding to a workplace decision or event.
Learn About Workplace Negativity
As a manager or human resources professional, you are closely in touch with employees throughout the company. This allows you to keep your fingers on the pulse of the organization to sense workplace negativity. It enables you to establish and heed early warning signals that all is not well. You receive employee complaints, do exit interviews with employees who leave, and know the reputation of your organization in your community.
You watch the discussions on employee Intranets, manage the appraisal and 360-degree feedback process, and coach managers in appropriate staff treatment. This information will help you learn to identify the symptoms of negativity before its morale-busting consequences damage your workplace. It will also assist you in preventing and curing workplace negativity.
Diagnose Workplace Negativity
Negativity is an increasing problem in the workplace, according to Gary S. Topchik, the author of Managing Workplace Negativity. He states, in a Management Review article, that negativity is often the result of a loss of confidence, control, or community. Knowing what people are negative about is the first step in solving the problem.
In my experience, when rumblings and negativity are beginning in your organization, talking with employees will help you understand the exact problems and the degree to which the problems are impacting your workplace. You will want to identify the exact employee groups who are experiencing the negativity, and the nature of the issues that sparked their unhappiness.
Perhaps the organization made a decision that adversely affected staff. Perhaps the executive manager held a staff meeting and was perceived to threaten or ignore people asking legitimate questions. Maybe staff members feel insecure because concern exists over losing a product line.
Perhaps underground rumors are circulating about an impending layoff. People may feel that they give the organization more than they receive in return. They may feel that a coworker was mistreated or denied a deserved promotion.
Whatever the cause of the workplace negativity, you must address the issues. Or like a seemingly dormant volcano, they will boil beneath the surface, and periodically bubble up and overflow to cause fresh damage.
The best way to combat workplace negativity is to keep it from occurring in the first place. These seven tips will help you minimize workplace negativity.
- Provide opportunities for people to make decisions about and control and/or influence their own job. The single most frequent cause of workplace negativity I encounter is traceable to a manager or the organization making a decision about a person's work without her input. Almost any decision that excludes the input of the person doing the work is perceived as negative.
- Make opportunities available for people to express their opinion about workplace policies and procedures. Recognize the impact of changes in such areas as work hours, pay, benefits, assignment of overtime hours, comp pay, dress codes, office location, job requirements, and working conditions.
- Treat people as adults with fairness and consistency. Develop and publicize workplace policies and procedures that organize work effectively. Apply them consistently. As an example, each employee has the opportunity to apply for leave time. In granting his request, apply the same factors to his application as you would to any other individual's.
- Do not create "rules" for all employees, when just a few people are violating the norms. You want to minimize the number of rules directing the behavior of adult people at work. Treat people as adults; they will usually live up to your expectations, and their own expectations.
- Help people feel like members of the in-crowd; each person wants to have the same information as quickly as everyone else. Provide the context for decisions, and communicate effectively and constantly.
- Afford people the opportunity to grow and develop. Training, perceived opportunities for promotions, lateral moves for development, and cross-training are visible signs of an organization's commitment to staff.
- Provide appropriate leadership and a strategic framework, including mission, vision, values, and goals. People want to feel as if they are part of something bigger than themselves. If they understand the direction, and their part in making the desired outcomes happen, they can effectively contribute more.
- Provide appropriate rewards and recognition so people feel their contribution is valued. The power of appropriate rewards and recognition for a positive workplace is remarkable. Suffice to say, reward and recognition is one of the most powerful tools an organization can use to buoy staff morale.
These factors are closest to the mind, heart and physical presence of each individual. Changes to these can cause serious negative responses. Provide timely, proactive responses to questions and concerns.
If several avenues or directions are under consideration, communicate all that you know, as soon as you know it. Reserve the right to change your mind later, without consequence, when additional factors affect the direction of ultimate decisions.
Take some time to analyze how well your organization is applying these seven recommendations. They form the foundation for positive staff morale and minimized negativity in your workplace.