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Workplace Negativity and How You Can Avoid It

When Preety joined a new workplace, she was happy to see that people were friendly, not so stressed out and the bosses were supportive. Overall it all seemed like a good work environment with much flexibility and freedom to creatively approach any work. Months passed, Preety completed a couple of assignments. With each assignment she also received critical feedback about her way of work. The expectation was that she would learn the right way of work in due time. However, she was unable to take critical feedback positively and instead of self-reflection, she lashed out on the organisation. Perhaps unknowingly, and slowly with every interaction she began to soil the happy work environment with her constant complains, and soon negativity took over.

No one wants their workplace to be negative, and yet, at times workplaces seem to have a negative work environment. Like in the case above, one employee who could not take feedback well became the reason for negativity. Often workplace negativity stems from one person or one incident. And you have to know this one thing about workplace negativity – It spreads like wild fire but takes a long time to reverse.

Managing workplace negativity begins by actively diagnosing it. It drags the energy out of your organisation and often diverts attention from work and performance-related goals. Negativity could be reflected in the attitudes, outlook and even way of communication among the employees. It could even be reflected in something as simple as the tone of voice while assigning a task or responding to a question. But as mentioned, the step one of managing this is by identifying the basic causes of it. Once that is clear, finding ways to avoid it becomes much more possible.

Common reasons of workplace negativity

Occasional workplace negativity can be a good training ground where you can anchor your team in a positive way. But when this starts to become a part of your work culture, you need to step in and make amends. The best way to improve something is knowing what is it that you are seeking to amend in the first place. Here are some of the most common causes of workplace negativity that you should watch out for:

1. Poor leadership

Leadership is an indispensable part of any organisation. No amount of technological or strategic support can replace this. You need to ensure that the leaders you appoint for your business are capable of handling the responsibilities you place on them. Be careful of the 5 signs of poor leadership lest they creep in your appointed people and affect your entire team and business as a whole.

2. Communication breakdown

This happens when your management and executive team isn’t able to communicate things effectively to the employees. This could make the employees feel disfranchised and negative. Ineffective communication of expectations and how the tasks are leading towards accomplishing the mission statement is a clarity that every employee ought to know. Managers’ failure to communicate feedback in a frequent and positive manner could also trigger the negative emotion of ‘managers vs us’ among the employees.

3. Tolerance for failure

Failure to have a consistent performance chart could also be another accelerant for workplace negativity. When you treat every employee individually (and rightly so) based on their strengths, weaknesses and skills, you need to understand that they are a part of the bigger unit too. The absence of clearly established work standards and tolerance of mistakes of certain employees could lead to resentment and hatred among others.

4. Unresolved conflict

Conflicts are a part and parcel of almost every human gathering and work isn’t different. But having said that, having them unresolved will do no good either. Every time you walk in and sense a level of uncomfortable silence, don’t continue to walk past it. For all you know, your intervention at that moment could have stopped and resolved a conflict that would be very difficult later for you to contain. It could even lead to the loss of some really valuable resources due to the unpleasant exchanges among the employees.

5. High level of stress

Though placed last, this is not least from any of the ones mentioned above. Employee burnout could be a major cause of their indulgence into negative talk about the company. They would feel that they are being exploited and even not think twice before sharing this with their peers, thus promoting negativity in an unintentional but definite manner.

Ways to reduce workplace negativity

Workplace negativity reduces the productivity of the organisation and also impacts the job satisfaction in a big way. The result could lead to increased absenteeism, lower employee morale and even a drop in the overall company turnover. It is therefore essential that you curb the negativity at every opportunity you get. Here are 5 tips on how you can do that.

1. Develop team spirit

Building a positive and enriching work culture isn’t a one-person’s job. It requires a team effort of all the people who are a part of your organisation. Now if you have a large team, it might look like a mammoth task but it is not. All it needs is an organised effort from each one in the team. You can start by having regular staff meetings, for example. Have your core team meet at least thrice a week if possible. Encourage them to meet their teams every two days and their sub-teams on a daily basis. This will ensure that there’s effective communication at all levels. Encourage team members to speak about their targets, ways of achieving them and challenges in doing so. This will ensure most problems are resolved right at the start of the entire team.

2. Roll out other enabling policies

Having meetings is a great start but you need to follow it up with enabling policies as well. Have measures that would make your employees feel safe while they voice their concerns against injustice or malpractices at the workplace. Policies such as whistle blowers’ policy, prevention of sexual harassment policy, harassment policy, etc. help to safeguard individuals from feeling stressed or conflicted.

3. Take workplace culture seriously

You have taken the time to nurture your teams and even have policies in place but if you don’t take efforts to safeguard your work culture, there are chances your team won’t either. You need to have regular meetings and place emphasis on the positive work environment. Have regular audits and corrective measures to improve this. Occasional fun sessions, regular problem-solving meetings and various appreciation days are all part of building a positive work culture. Something as simple as celebrating a festival in your office could also promote happy vibes among your employees. Leverage and appreciate personal achievements of employees and encourage them to train others in the team as well. The better the bonding, lower are the chances of workplace negativity to flourish.

4. Coach your team leaders in conflict management

A lot of times, conflicts are a result of misunderstanding or miscommunication between a set of people. Most of these conflicts could be easily solved if someone is equipped to identify the cause and avoid it. Now, it is not practical or possible for you to do it every single time. Hence it is essential that you coach your team leaders in conflict management. You need to encourage and reward the problem-solving attitude of your employees as well. This will motivate them to steer clear of unnecessary arguments among themselves. This can be done with the help of positive working workshops for your employees. This would enable them in dealing with stressful situations and managing timelines in an efficient way. A coaching on taking feedbacks positively, ensuring the improvement of interpersonal skills and encouraging bonding also goes a long way in conflict management and promoting a positive work environment.

5. Take charge of internal communication

Just like your external communication, internal communication is also very important to your business. If you don’t communicate with the employees, chances are they will communicate half backed information with each other. This could then start a chain of Chinese whispers that could eventually lead to workplace negativity in the long run. Thus, ensure that you communicate everything directly to the employees on a regular basis. This removes the scope of any miscommunication and also helps in ensuring the right information is passed to all levels of your organisation.

You may have read this in a book or in an article, the brain can only hold one thought at a time, so the ideal way to become positive is by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Workplace negativity is something like that, you have to be perceptive that negativity exists, identify it and then replace it with positivity. Your HR department will play a key role in eradicating workplace negativity.

Yellow Spark often conducts an HR audit for our clients. It helps them identify loop-hole in their current HR practices and our recommendations enable them to strengthen various aspects of their people management. Reach out to us for an independent audit of your organisation – contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.

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Workplace Negativity and How You Can Avoid It

Published on:  August 14, 2018

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