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5 Tips to Deal with Workplace Negativity

Workplace negativity affects everything from engagement to productivity, and even impacts employee retention. Negativity can spread like wildfire and take a toll on many aspects of the workplace. Below are five tips for dealing with workplace negativity and implementing change that you can control.

1. Recognizing a Negative Workplace

Recognize the negativity around you. Can you even feel your energy being drained by the words spoken around you? If it feels bad or uncomfortable, then it’s negative. These feelings are a form of emotional intelligence letting you know something is not right. Workplace negativity can be reversed; if you can recognize what is happening, you can make good choices about how to handle it in a positive way. You have the power to enact change and make negativity a thing of the past. Are you contributing to the negativity around you? If you are listening to gossip or participating in conversations where the only focus is to denigrate, diminish or criticize others then you are. Language matters. Everything we say has an impact. Be aware of how you say things and where you place your energy and time into.

2. Giving Employees a Voice

The single most frequent cause of workplace negativity is traceable to a manager or the organization making a decision about a person’s work without their input. Almost any decision that excludes the input of the person doing the work is perceived as negative. Provide opportunities for people to make decisions about and control and/or influence their own job. Make opportunities available for people to express their opinion about workplace policies and procedures. Develop and publicize workplace policies and procedures that organize work effectively, and provide timely, proactive responses to questions and concerns. Help people feel included — each person wants to have the same information as quickly as everyone else. Provide the context for decisions, and communicate effectively and constantly.

Recognize the impact of changes in areas such as work hours, pay, benefits, and assignment of overtime hours, comp pay, dress codes, office location, job requirements and working conditions. These factors are closest to the mind, heart and physical presence of each individual. Changes to these can cause serious negative responses.

3. Creating Inclusive Environments

Treat your employees with fairness and consistency, as if they are trustworthy and worthy of your respect — because they are. Start from a position of trust when you hire a new employee. Verify their performance, truthfulness, and contribution over time to confirm your original position. Do not start from a position of believing that people must earn your trust. That positioning ensures that negativity will take over in your workplace. If you don’t trust them, they will know you don’t.

Do not create rules for all employees when just a few people are violating the norms. Many organizations do the complete opposite. The majority of people in the workplace suffer through a negative change all because one person violated a rule or found an unidentified loophole. You want to minimize the number of rules directing the behavior of adult people at work. Treat people as adults and they will usually live up to your expectations, and their own expectations.

4. Providing an Opportunity to Grow

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. Make your commitment to employee growth and development by creating mutually developed career path plans for every employee.

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 will likely contribute more. People make better decisions for your business when you empower them with the information they need to make decisions that strategically align with your overall direction.

5. Awarding and Acknowledging Employee Contributions

Rewards and recognition are two of the most powerful tools an organization can use to increase staff morale. Provide appropriate rewards and recognition so employees feel their contribution is valued. A few words of praise and acknowledgment can transform a negative workplace. Be the positive energy on your team. You want to be the kind of person people gravitate towards because they know they will be uplifted by you, not put down or drained. Strive to be the employee that people walk away feeling good after being in your presence.

No matter what is going on around you, you control your inner environment and how you choose to respond to external events and situations. It’s your responsibility to become the kind of person you enjoy being and with whom others enjoy being around. It’s the only way to create a ripple of change. And if we all do our part, then slowly but surely, we will make a difference in our work environment and the larger community.

Laura-Céline Mueller is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is an experienced public relations professional, specializing in content development and digital communications. As Public Affairs Specialist for the District of Columbia Government, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs she is a strategic communications adviser assisting in the management of communication, branding, events, marketing, and public relations operations of the agency. 

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Profile Photo Rebecca H Mott

Negative workplaces don’t “just happen.” They are created and sustained by the status quo and culture. This is why I like your tips #2 and #3.

#2 – Giving employees a safe space to voice their concerns is important. That same voice can also be used to develop solutions to any challenges that are identified. Ask about the problem and ask for the solutions.

#3 – Punishing everyone because of the bad behavior of one person can be appropriate, but must be used judiciously. Often, bad behavior emerges because expectations were not clearly declared or understood. Setting clear expectations up front and you may prevent bad behavior from emerging.

Profile Photo Rebecca H Mott

Negative workplaces don’t “just happen.” They are created and sustained by the status quo and culture. This is why I like your tips #2 and #3.

#2 – Giving employees a safe space to voice their concerns is important. That same voice can also be used to develop solutions to any challenges that are identified. Ask about the problem and ask for the solutions.

#3 – Punishing everyone because of the bad behavior of one person can be appropriate, but must be used judiciously. Often, bad behavior emerges because expectations were not clearly declared or understood. Set clear expectations up front and you may prevent bad behavior from emerging.