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How to Reduce Negativity in the Workplace

Reduce Negativity

High employee turnover? Falling performance levels? Increasing absenteeism? A palpable sense of frustration in the air?

Employee negativity can manifest itself in multiple ways – some more obvious than others. Whatever the cause, negative attitudes can become toxic in the workplace, spreading through teams and departments and dragging the whole organisation down.

There are both short and long-term solutions for reducing negativity in the workplace before it becomes a damaging and disruptive influence…

Understanding the reasons for negativity

The first thing to understand is that most negativity stems from personal circumstances, attitudes, or outlooks. People rarely become negative because of solely professional reasons that don’t affect them in some personal way.

This is borne out in a recent study by Towers Perrin and Gang & Gang. They surveyed employees and senior HR executives in US and Canadian companies and found the following main reasons for employee negativity:

• An excessive workload (which creates stress)
• Concerns about company direction (job security)
• Anxiety about longer-term income and retirement security
• Lack of challenge and excessive boredom (lack of personal progression)
• Lack of recognition and reward

As you can see, these reasons for negativity all relate directly to the employee experience, which must be improved if most of the root causes of the negativity are to be addressed.

Short-term strategies for reducing employee negativity

Most obviously, meetings must be set up with employees to determine the causes of the negativity and to start addressing them without delay. This was covered in some depth in my previous blog post on employee negativity.

Beyond the discussions and meetings, it’s useful to consider some strategies for addressing some of the most common causes of dissatisfaction and negativity:

• Ensure even distribution of work – when someone leaves, avoid the temptation for remaining staff to share the workload. While most reasonable employees don’t mind covering for others in emergencies, it shouldn’t become commonplace or it will cause resentment. Make sure they can see progress towards normalising their workloads.

• In times of downturn, reassure employees – it is natural for employees to become anxious when there is a downturn in company performance or the wider economy. Most rely on income from their job to support themselves and their families. They need to be reassured that their jobs are safe or they will start looking for alternatives.

• Understand employee goals – if an employee is ambitious, applies for promotions, and gets knocked back every time, it can be soul-destroying. This is likely to result in a negative attitude. Find out where your employees want to go and you may be able to help them get there with a well-defined career path and a fair system of promotion.

• Introduce more recognition and reward – a workplace without recognising standout performance regularly is likely to turn sour quickly when things go wrong. Start recognising and rewarding when employees hit or succeed targets by regularly setting goals that are fair and achievable.

• Practice inclusion – by involving the people who are closest to the negativity (or maybe those expressing it) in the solutions, you can get their buy-in. It’s important to avoid the perception of change being imposed on them, as this can deepen negative sentiments. Encourage employees to take ownership of the problem and the solution, as this can have a catalysing effect.

• Review regularly – any changes you introduce need to be measured to see if they’re working or can be improved. Make sure you have a review process in place to address this.

Longer-term solutions

When there are large numbers of disaffected employees, the reason may sometimes be obvious: a downturn in company performance causing anxiety about layoffs, for instance.

But when the reasons are unclear, a deeper, cultural issue could be at the root of the negativity. If so, you will need to take a look at some longer-term solutions as well as the short-term ones outlined above.

Chief amongst these is the need to have a continuous flow of information between employees, management, and the upper levels of leadership.

Introducing a system of continuous feedback between employees and management will help to identify problems before they grow, provide a vehicle for employees’ voices to be heard, and create opportunities for closer relationships and more of mentoring experience for employees. If leaders are better able to listen to their employees, they can guide and help them towards their larger goals. This can make the entire work experience more supportive for the employee and they are more likely to feel connected to the organisation and its leaders. This positivity will flow outwards across the organisation.

Also, by ensuring that communication channels are open and effective you can reduce the chance of negativity resulting from rumour and hearsay. When information is communicated accurately and with no possibility of confusion, the likelihood for ‘Chinese Whispers’ or nasty surprises is reduced. Communicate clearly why changes are happening and make sure employees are aware of (and, ideally, connected to) the wider vision of the organisation.

Of course, traditional management school focuses less on relationship-building and more on measuring the performance numbers and driving productivity. But the longer-term approach to reducing negativity may involve a little more focus on emotional intelligence rather than IQ.

Depending on the cause of the workplace negativity, immediate action may be required; but the smartest organisations also consider the longer-term changes that can help reduce negative sentiment in the future.

If you have a problem with negativity in the workplace it’s important to address it before it starts to become a wider problem. Start a conversation by emailing me at: ush@collaboratehr.com.au.

How to Reduce Negativity in the Workplace

Reduce Negativity

High employee turnover? Falling performance levels? Increasing absenteeism? A palpable sense of frustration in the air?

Employee negativity can manifest itself in multiple ways – some more obvious than others. Whatever the cause, negative attitudes can become toxic in the workplace, spreading through teams and departments and dragging the whole organisation down.

There are both short and long-term solutions for reducing negativity in the workplace before it becomes a damaging and disruptive influence…

Understanding the reasons for negativity

The first thing to understand is that most negativity stems from personal circumstances, attitudes, or outlooks. People rarely become negative because of solely professional reasons that don’t affect them in some personal way.

This is borne out in a recent study by Towers Perrin and Gang & Gang. They surveyed employees and senior HR executives in US and Canadian companies and found the following main reasons for employee negativity:

• An excessive workload (which creates stress)
• Concerns about company direction (job security)
• Anxiety about longer-term income and retirement security
• Lack of challenge and excessive boredom (lack of personal progression)
• Lack of recognition and reward

As you can see, these reasons for negativity all relate directly to the employee experience, which must be improved if most of the root causes of the negativity are to be addressed.

Short-term strategies for reducing employee negativity

Most obviously, meetings must be set up with employees to determine the causes of the negativity and to start addressing them without delay. This was covered in some depth in my previous blog post on employee negativity.

Beyond the discussions and meetings, it’s useful to consider some strategies for addressing some of the most common causes of dissatisfaction and negativity:

• Ensure even distribution of work – when someone leaves, avoid the temptation for remaining staff to share the workload. While most reasonable employees don’t mind covering for others in emergencies, it shouldn’t become commonplace or it will cause resentment. Make sure they can see progress towards normalising their workloads.

• In times of downturn, reassure employees – it is natural for employees to become anxious when there is a downturn in company performance or the wider economy. Most rely on income from their job to support themselves and their families. They need to be reassured that their jobs are safe or they will start looking for alternatives.

• Understand employee goals – if an employee is ambitious, applies for promotions, and gets knocked back every time, it can be soul-destroying. This is likely to result in a negative attitude. Find out where your employees want to go and you may be able to help them get there with a well-defined career path and a fair system of promotion.

• Introduce more recognition and reward – a workplace without recognising standout performance regularly is likely to turn sour quickly when things go wrong. Start recognising and rewarding when employees hit or succeed targets by regularly setting goals that are fair and achievable.

• Practice inclusion – by involving the people who are closest to the negativity (or maybe those expressing it) in the solutions, you can get their buy-in. It’s important to avoid the perception of change being imposed on them, as this can deepen negative sentiments. Encourage employees to take ownership of the problem and the solution, as this can have a catalysing effect.

• Review regularly – any changes you introduce need to be measured to see if they’re working or can be improved. Make sure you have a review process in place to address this.

Longer-term solutions

When there are large numbers of disaffected employees, the reason may sometimes be obvious: a downturn in company performance causing anxiety about layoffs, for instance.

But when the reasons are unclear, a deeper, cultural issue could be at the root of the negativity. If so, you will need to take a look at some longer-term solutions as well as the short-term ones outlined above.

Chief amongst these is the need to have a continuous flow of information between employees, management, and the upper levels of leadership.

Introducing a system of continuous feedback between employees and management will help to identify problems before they grow, provide a vehicle for employees’ voices to be heard, and create opportunities for closer relationships and more of mentoring experience for employees. If leaders are better able to listen to their employees, they can guide and help them towards their larger goals. This can make the entire work experience more supportive for the employee and they are more likely to feel connected to the organisation and its leaders. This positivity will flow outwards across the organisation.

Also, by ensuring that communication channels are open and effective you can reduce the chance of negativity resulting from rumour and hearsay. When information is communicated accurately and with no possibility of confusion, the likelihood for ‘Chinese Whispers’ or nasty surprises is reduced. Communicate clearly why changes are happening and make sure employees are aware of (and, ideally, connected to) the wider vision of the organisation.

Of course, traditional management school focuses less on relationship-building and more on measuring the performance numbers and driving productivity. But the longer-term approach to reducing negativity may involve a little more focus on emotional intelligence rather than IQ.

Depending on the cause of the workplace negativity, immediate action may be required; but the smartest organisations also consider the longer-term changes that can help reduce negative sentiment in the future.

If you have a problem with negativity in the workplace it’s important to address it before it starts to become a wider problem. Start a conversation by emailing me at: ush@collaboratehr.com.au.