An overwhelming issue with far-reaching effects.
A survey by Fierce Inc., a Seattle-based leadership and training company, asked over 1000 executives and employees to rank the most damaging traits of a ‘toxic’ employee. Negativity outranked gossiping, laziness, and passive-aggressiveness for an overwhelming 78% of respondents who found it “extremely debilitating” – in addition to decreases in morale and productivity and increases in stress and distractions.
The biggest issue with negativity is the ease and rapidity by which it spreads, adds Sherrie Bourg Carter writing for Psychology Today. Referred to as emotional contagion, many experts assert that negative emotions are more easily spread than positive emotions. “Some believe that this is reflective of our evolutionary past wherein being highly attuned to other people’s negative emotions (pain, fear and disgust) was directly linked to survival,” says Carter. When applying this theory to the competitive nature of the workplace, one would expect susceptibility to emotional contagions to be even higher.
Workplace negativity is a very expensive problem to have.
Workplace negativity is not solely an HR issue. When adopting an integrative thinking approach, one can understand why company attitudes must be addressed at all levels of management, and across every department. Billie Nordmeyer, a consultant who advises fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, outlines four areas of concern: customer complaints, employee turnover, low morale, and absenteeism. These can have compounding and devastating effects on a company’s bottom line if it is not addressed early on.
A Gallup study found that negativity results in a whopping $300 billion in lost revenue per year for the U.S. Economy. Once you factor in external and opportunity costs in dealing with negativity, the damage is astronomical.
The not-so-simple solution.
One might think that the best way to address workplace negativity is to inject a healthy dose of positive energy into the situation. While this is true, there are also legal considerations which may result in a catastrophic fallout if not given due diligence.
A major point of consideration is the mental wellness of employees. Employers have an obligation to provide employees with support in cases of mental illness. Unfortunately, mental health issues can be difficult to spot for the untrained eye, and disciplinary action on the basis of a negative attitude may cross the line of disability discrimination if a mental illness is indeed present. “Such mistakes may be common, especially when most companies do not have the medical resources handy to separate the wheat from the chaff when employees complain of being ‘stressed’ or ‘depressed,’” as stated in a management training guide by Businesss Management Daily. Other grounds for legal action on the basis of disability discrimination are race, age, and sexual harassment – which managers must be especially cognizant of .
To deal with negativity without legal consequence, managers must ensure that the employee has been provided with sufficient support and opportunity to change their attitude. If their negativity stems from dissatisfaction about an aspect of management or their duties, then management should also self-assess the effects which their management style has on their team. Even the slightest change – such as a rearrangement of seating assignments, or a company-sponsored team night – can have dramatic effects on the mood of the entire office.
If all else fails, the most surefire way to deal with a negativity is to terminate the offending employees. In doing so, clear communicative efforts must be given to the remaining staff to underline the overarching purpose of the termination. An open dialogue between management and employees must be fostered, so that any remnants of negativity can be eliminated and to ease any concerns of current employees regarding their own future at the company.