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Negativity At Work – Can Lead To a Baaaad Work Culture

By May 23, 2023October 19th, 2023No Comments

We’ve written on this topic before. However, this topic is as relevant as ever today, with all that is going on in our current world. Dealing with the end of a global pandemic, cultural shifts in our workplaces, geo-political issues, and general stress/anxiety, have become our “new normal”.

How many of you, when you read the title, had a face or name pop into your head? Like Bully Barbara, who ruled her administrative office with negativity. She had a toxic attitude; however, she was not an underperformer. She brought good practices to the accounting department. She implemented some new techniques and processes to improve how the department functioned.  Despite the process improvements, her negativity tainted the overall atmosphere in our administrative office. The day she announced she was leaving us for another job was met with a sense of hope. The next day, the whole office felt lighter and happier.

I can’t think of anything that brings down an organization faster than working with or for someone who is persistently negative. It often becomes a virus that spreads like wildfire, and when it grows unchecked can be incredibly contagious. Our Negative Neds and Nellies can lead to Bully Bob and Bully Barbara if we aren’t careful and create a toxic workplace culture.

How do you stop the infection of negativity?

  • Set clear behavior guidelinesOutline in your policies & procedures what you define as acceptable behaviors. What will you condone? What won’t you tolerate? Define it and put it in writing. When those unacceptable behaviors are defined and documented they are no longer subjective, and much easier to address. Define what you want to see and hear:
    • Respect for others – coworkers, clients, vendors, parents (of your clients).
    • Commitment to high ethical standards – define what you value.
    • Commitment to the community – Consider where your organization does business and the impact you wish to achieve.
    • Civility –The NLRA has suggested that including a civility clause could be helpful. Their idea, “Behavior that is rude, condescending or otherwise socially unacceptable is prohibited”.
    • Teamwork – What do you want that to look like in your organization?
  • Listen – Are there real issues either from a personal viewpoint, (e.g., illness, divorce, financial issues) or from a professional standpoint (e.g., short staffed, increased workload, working from home challenges, and/or impending layoffs)? Decide if what you hear has some validity. Perhaps a referral to your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) would be helpful, or hiring some temporary staff will ease the issue and end the negativity. Sometimes short-term negativity is fixable and just that, short-term. However, what if it’s not fixable in the immediate future? Is this a perpetual Negative Ned? If so, limit lending your ear. Don’t argue, but don’t make it appear acceptable.
  • Give clear direction and feedback –Don’t ignore the person and situation. Don’t complain about it. Set the behavior on the right track by being direct and honest with your Negative Ned/Nellie. Giving honest feedback is difficult. We want our employees to like us and most of us don’t like confrontation. Explain the behaviors and the impact they have in the program or department. Work with the person. Give them some control (the “how”) so that the responsibility to implement change comes from them and not from you.
  • Document, document, document – You’ve heard us say it before, if it isn’t written down…it didn’t happen (at least from jury’s viewpoint or when fighting an unemployment claim). Here at HR Services, we mention documentation every chance we get and there is an important reason for that. We believe documentation is critical for a multitude of reasons. Specifically, it is a reminder of:
    • What is the issue(s)
    • What you discussed
    • Ideas for change
    • What you agreed upon for action
    • How you (the supervisor) will support and encourage the changes
    • Timelines and target deadlines
  • Follow through with it all

You’ve heard it said: “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. Today, and always, civility rules”. Consistency, compassion, respect, and communication with those we work with, for, and supervise, are paramount for organizational success. Resolving negativity in the workplace has immense rewards for all, less stress, less absenteeism, better teamwork, higher morale and importantly, trust. Working towards a healthy and safe workplace culture can be a challenge, but it can be done, and it’s worth it!

501 members and subscribers have unlimited access to HR Services. Contact us anytime regarding this subject or any other HR challenge you may be facing.

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The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel and has been pulled from multiple sources.

(Image by wirestock from Freepik)

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