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Reversing Negativity in the Workplace

Do any of these workplace issues sound familiar?

  • Morale is low.
  • Employees are making preventable mistakes because they don’t seem to care.
  • No one seems to have fun at work anymore.
  • Employees spend a lot of time complaining and griping.
  • Gossip, whispers and rumors are distracting people from their jobs.
  • Employees talk badly about management, other departments, customers or each other.
  • Many employees are requesting transfers to another department, or even quitting.
  • Absenteeism is increasing.
  • People stop talking when the manager comes in.
  • Even your best people are losing their enthusiasm.
  • You’re spending more time than usual soothing feelings and putting out fires.

If you answered yes to two or more of the above statements, you might have a serious negativity problem. And when negativity goes unchecked, morale nosedives, productivity suffers, communication comes to a halt and people stop working well together. Business, of course, will suffer.

The typical workplace has its ups and downs in terms of employee negativity, but when you’ve been in a down cycle for too long, it’s time to take control and turn it around. When employers understand the causes of employee negativity and implement measures to prevent it, they can create a more productive and positive work environment.

What really causes employee negativity?

A study conducted by Towers Perrin and researchers Gang & Gang surveyed a randomly selected group of 1,100 employees and 300 senior human resources executives working for mid-sized and large-sized companies in the United States and Canada. Participants were asked to describe their feelings about their current work experience.

The study determined that the reasons for most of the employee negativity included:

  • An excessive workload
  • Concerns about management’s ability to lead the company forward successfully
  • Anxiety about the future, particular longer-term job, income and retirement security
  • Lack of challenge in their work, with boredom intensifying existing frustration about workload
  • Insufficient recognition for the level of contribution and effort provided, and concerns that pay isn’t commensurate with performance.

The study also found that some employees with a negative outlook were seeking new jobs, but the majority were planning to stick it out, despite their unhappiness.

How Can You Reverse Employee Negativity?

The most direct way to reverse negativity is to talk to your employees. Find out who is unhappy and why. Then try to address these concerns–and include employees in the decision making process, especially when you’re making decisions that affect their everyday working life.

For example, if too many employees are feeling overworked, try to divide the work more equally across several employees or see if there are any duties or responsibilities you can eliminate altogether.

Companies that experience a business downturn will hear employees expressing concerns about both management and their future with the company. Following a period of financial woes, management will have to work to regain employee trust. Earn this trust by offering consistent, transparent communication–that is, share information about the company, its successes and its future plans. Be honest but not alarmist about any bad news.

If several employees tell you they feel they’ve been passed over unfairly for a promotion, take a hard look at your promotion system to make sure it’s fair and equitable. Make sure your employees know exactly what is expected of them if they want to make the next step up the ladder.

If you hear that an employee is bored or frustrated in his current position, work with him or her to create a professional development plan and possibly add some new projects or responsibilities.

Finally, they might not tell you this, but employees love recognition for their work. They gain a sense of professional self-worth and feel more confident and competent when management takes the time to commend them for a job well done–or even compensates them somehow.

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 can come from one person, one event or one policy. It will become stronger unless you acknowledge it exists and work out ways to make things better. While you may not win over every chronic complainer, others will appreciate your willingness to listen and provide solutions. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when your employees return to being productive and positive.