How to combat negativity in the workplace

21 May 2021 | Columns

Analene Meyer

We spend the majority of our waking hours at work. It’s worth taking the time to help make it a place that you – and your colleagues – want to be.

Nobody wants to work in a toxic environment. Aside from being simply unpleasant, negativity in the workplace can impact engagement, productivity and employee retention.

In fact, a Michigan State University study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that employees who consistently point out a company’s faults are “more likely to become mentally fatigued and defensive, and experience a drop-off in productivity”.

How do you create a happier office environment? It’s not difficult, but it takes more than a pizza Friday once a month…

Diagnose it

According to US project management service provider Wrike, signs to look out for include:

· Frequent complaints and criticisms

· Decreased productivity and output

· Disengagement and refusal to participate

· Consistent excuses and shifting of blame

· Reduced energy and enthusiasm

· Increased gossip, sniping, and toxicity

Derail office gossip

The metaphorical ’80s water cooler may be long gone, but gossip is still a feature of the workplace. And, according to leadership coach Ashira Prossack writing for Forbes, it’s an even more insidious danger now that “people can hide behind screens and think less about the impact of their words and actions”.

She says that as an individual you have two choices when you hear office gossip. “You can either step in and try to re-frame the conversation, or you can try to change the conversation altogether. It’s all too tempting to be a part of the group, to participate just because everyone else is doing it. The problem is that the more people participate in negative commentary, the more it spreads. Chime in with something positive and try to steer the conversation in a more productive direction.”

Address it directly

If someone on your team is being negative, book some time to chat to them one on one. Use ‘I’ language to point out their negativity (“I’ve noticed that you…” rather than “everyone thinks that you…”, which sounds like they’re being ganged up on).

Use real examples. “We’re not always great at recognising how we’re perceived by others. If you’re equipped with specific examples of times you saw their negative attitude creep in, you can better alert them to their behaviour,” say the experts at Wrike. Follow this up with regular feedback sessions, and action their points where appropriate, to bring them back to a place of engagement.

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