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How to Turn Around Negativity in the Workplace

Human Resources

Negativity in the workplace can take a toll on employees and managers alike. The demands of the marketplace are stressful enough without adding to it unhappy and unmotivated team members, or leaders frustrated by a lack of morale and productivity. The result can lead to a work environment where little work actually gets done, customer service suffers, and the company gets trapped in a cycle of inaction and high employee turnover.

Clearly, the impact of negativity in the workplace should not be ignored for long. With the right approach, you can address and overcome this problem, rejuvenate your company's most valuable resource (your employees), and instill a culture where everyone works together enthusiastically toward a single, growth-focused goal.

Pinpoint causes of negativity. Before attempting to turn things around, it's necessary to identify what's causing a pervasive sense of negativity in your work environment. Among the most common causes are:

  • A wave of recent layoffs and/or rumors of an impending layoff
  • Poor manager performance (including an inability to inspire employees)
  • Cutbacks in employee benefits
  • Employees who feel they've been passed over for promotion
  • A sense among employees of "feeling stuck" in their jobs

CEOs and business owners should work to stay aware of the general atmosphere in the workplace, either by talking directly with employees or getting regular updates from department managers. Ask for honest feedback. Letting things fester is the worst possible approach to overcoming negativity.

Treat employees with respect. You may feel you respect the efforts of your employees, but consider how many workplace rules and policies your company has instituted that "regulate" their behavior.

Of course, certain policies are essential for HR compliance (i.e., anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies), but too many other rules about what's allowed and disallowed in the workplace can make people feel like they're not being regarded as adults who are capable of making their own decisions about proper workplace behavior.

Model the conduct you want from others. What example do you set when you make your way through the office or warehouse? Are you smiling and upbeat, or close-lipped and seemingly in a hurry to get away?

Whether you're aware of it or not, employees are monitoring how you act in their presence, and maintaining a positive attitude can go a long way toward reviving their spirits.

Frame your feedback constructively. Encourage managers to provide employee feedback that aims to uplift the recipient, not make him or her feel they're always doing things wrong.

Don't focus on mistakes employees have made, but instead provide an alternate model for approaching similar situations in the future, and reinforce improvements by offering positive encouragement. Such constructive feedback loops can positively impact the mood in the workplace.

Recalibrate hiring processes to emphasize positive candidate traits. Without noticing it, your hiring team may be inadvertently hiring individuals with a tendency toward negativity or improper workplace behavior.

Of course, a job candidate always seeks to be on his or her best behavior during the recruitment stage. But by tweaking your interview and selection process and asking focused questions, you can delve deeper into an individual's history of conflict behavior, ability to inspire co-workers, and whether they have an authentic, optimistic outlook on their career.

Recognize and reward outstanding performance. A great way to overcome workplace negativity is by recognizing and rewarding excellent employee performance. Formal employee recognition programs are a great plus in any company culture, but any sort of acknowledgment or reward can help turn a downbeat atmosphere around.

Employee morale and productivity are key elements of any company's success. That's why it's essential to investigate the causes of negativity if and when they arise, and take swift action to remedy the situation.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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