We are each impacted by negativity in our day-to-day lives, but the full extent of its impact on our workplace productivity should be addressed. What does negativity look like in the workplace?

What is its impact? What can be done to decrease the prevalence of negativity both displayed and experienced by your employees? Business leaders have an opportunity to change the course of their companies’ success through proactive actions that may decrease the impact of workplace negativity while increasing the overall job satisfaction experienced by employees.

Negativity in Others
Before a solution can be addressed, it is important to identify where and how negativity shows up in our organizations. Unfortunately, negativity in the workplace can be seen at all levels, across all departments and potentially within any team or individual. Whether it is simply one employee displaying negativity through verbal sarcasm, mocking, teasing or through stonewalling, negativity is a factor that may influence the behavior of others. In addition to obvious harassment, negativity may be even more subtle. With the majority of communication conducted non-verbally (i.e., through our body language or facial expressions), negativity can be experienced by the observer in approximately one-sixth of a second. In other words, a disappointed supervisor sends a negative, disapproving message before a single word has been spoken…literally… in an instant. At its worst, negativity can be observed or experienced via hate speech.

Negativity in Ourselves
Not only may we observe negativity in others, it is also an issue for each of us to address as it occurs within ourselves. It begins with our own negative thinking. As is described by neuroscientists, each conscious thought we have is either positive or negative and directly influences our emotional well-being as well as directly impacts our personal and professional behavior. For instance, if we are thinking negatively about the outcome of a particular business decision that has been made, our emotions and behavior will follow suit.

If we do not believe we are capable of succeeding in completing a particular task or that we do not deserve the next promotional opportunity, it is more probable our beliefs (i.e., negative thinking) will result in negative behavior influencing a negative outcome. Unfortunately, an individual’s negative thinking has the potential to induce an undesirable consequence.

Results Matter
Organizations function to serve others or to create a product to provide to the consumer. When employees are experiencing negativity in the workplace, the mission of the organization is impacted. Results matter. Therefore, what can business leaders do to increase positivity in the workplace? First, organizations must recognize the prevalence and impact of emotional contagion. For example, research indicates that when an employee grumbles to others, even for an issue such as a work schedule, he or she may negatively influence their team members’ thinking, emotions and resulting behavior.

Individuals on the receiving end of negative behavior experience increased stress, lack of focus, diminished workplace relationships, and, ultimately, job dissatisfaction leading to a decrease in their performance and productivity. Less obvious to managers may be the results of negative thinking that cause a void of positive behavior. For instance, negative thinking may result in a lack of encouragement, support, care and concern for the employees in your organization. Studies reveal that when employees do not believe their employers care about them, they are more likely to experience job dissatisfaction leading to decreased performance and productivity.

In addition to the results of negativity being revealed in decreased productivity and performance, frequently today employees are utilizing social media to communicate how they are feeling about their workplace, team members or supervisors. While there is legislation addressing slander and hate speech, general negativity about an employer may not be a legal issue.

This may be addressed by employers who create a legally defensible policy outlining acceptable and unacceptable speech and use of social media. It is critical, though, the employer does not violate any state or federal legislation (such as the National Labor Relations Act) when creating, disseminating and training on the policy.

Encouraging and supporting training for employees to learn how to manage stress, improve personal financial management, and reduce interpersonal conflicts is critical. Identifying and rectifying any form of communication that discourages honest, open communication is necessary. Creating and implementing and consistently upholding policies that discourage the negative treatment of others must be accomplished by all organizations. While the return on investment for this is both tangible and intangible, the results ultimately will encourage a positive culture in the organization. Supporting coaching and mentoring is another strategy organizations can utilize to improve a culture of positivity.

Ultimately, as business leaders we have a responsibility to model positive thinking, encouragement, thoughtfulness, and concern for the outcome not only of the organization but also of each individual employee.

By Colleen McLaughlin, SPHR