Resolving workplace negativity

Positive gesture

“I dread asking them to do anything”

“No-one seems very happy”

“She is like a dark cloud in the office”

“He complains about everything”

If you’ve heard or said any of these phrases then you are probably all too familiar with workplace negativity.  As a consultant and coach I often work with businesses to improve employee morale and engagement and to help create a more positive environment.  Unfortunately there is rarely a simple solution; negativity has many causes and therefore many possible solutions. However, here are my top tips to create a more positive workplace;

1.  It starts with you!  The finger of blame for negativity is always pointed at someone else but the truth is that whether or not we are to blame for it, there are certainly actions we can take to make things better.

  • When was the last time you thanked a colleague?  Saying thank you is a simple but very effective way of building an environment of mutual respect.
  • Smile.  That’s it really.
  • Be nice. In “7 habits of highly effective people”, Steven Covey talks about the power of reciprocity.  The idea is that if you spend your time doing things to help other people, this creates a ‘bank of goodwill’ and they will be inclined to repay you.  Don’t under-estimate the power of nice!

2. In my experience, one of the main sources of employee negativity is the perception that poor performers are rewarded and good performers are punished.  Although it sounds crazy, it is common place. We reward poor performers by giving them less work and instead give it to someone who is more reliable. They are also often rewarded with promotion as managers are keen to move them on. Meanwhile the high performing team members become over-loaded and disillusioned. Managing poor performance effectively is a tough job but is essential in creating a positive culture.

3.  Do YOU know what motivates each of your team members? Motivation is different for each individual and taking the time to really understand how best engage and manage each member of your team will make a huge difference to how they feel at work.  The same applies to strengths and skills – an employee who is using their strongest strengths and skills at work will generally be happy!

4.  Keep talking.  When relationships are strained or when things are going wrong it is very tempting to avoid conversations or put off performance reviews.  This generally makes the situation worse and maintaining communication is a good way of reducing negativity.

5.  Listen.  If there is an individual or group who are displaying negative behaviour then make sure you hear their complaints.  Give them the opportunity to explain what they want, it may be something you can solve quite easily or may be out of your control.  Either way, being heard and understood will go a long way to improving the situation.

6.  Sometimes negativity has its roots in very practical, mundane details such as the system for booking holidays, car parking spaces, office temperature, rotas or the jobs no-one wants to do.  Ensuring that you have open and fair systems in place will go some way to resolving this.

7.  Occasionally negativity has a single source, sometimes called a drain. A drain is someone who;

  • Is downbeat, irritable and awkward
  • Regularly gossips or complains
  • Sucks the energy out of others, a ‘mood hoover’
  • Puts you down at every opportunity
  • Criticises your decisions and actions
  • Tells you that it will never work
  • Blames other people for their current circumstances

There are two main strategies for dealing with drains.  Firstly, don’t collude with them by getting drawn into their negative conversations.  Focus on solutions or walk away.  Secondly, there is very little you can do to change their behaviour therefore you should aim to minimise your time with this person, prevent them from influencing others and if their behaviour oversteps the rules then manage this through your disciplinary process.

8.  Sometimes negativity is deeply rooted in company culture, perhaps due to historic issues, overworked staff, risk and uncertainty, poorly managed change or poor leadership. The suggestions in this blog will help but the issues will persist until the underlying problem is resolved.