Source: E-mail dt. 14.11.2011


Managing and Solving Workplace Negativity


Dr. Raja Gopal Babu

Professor & Head - Management Science (CA)

 Sri Krishna Arts and Science College, Coimbatore – 08, Tamilnadu, India.



Assistant Professor - Management Science (CA),

Sri Krishna Arts and Science College, Coimbatore – 08, Tamilnadu, India.




Human resource management, if we see it from definition perspective “it is a process of bringing people and organizations together so that the goals of each others are met”. If we see in practical situation the above definition its just one side of a coin which has limited HRM involvement but HRM today is a different story, it have changed the way we work, and also it helps an organization to survive in recessionary period. Managing and attracting the human resource in today’s time is very difficult task. The role of HR manager has changed a lot (Dancing differently on changing tunes of life) from being protector and screener to the role of Savior who acts as planner and change agent affecting bottom of the pyramid where it is blue collar workers & at the Top & Middle level executives. Nothing affects employee morale more insidiously than persistent workplace negativity. It saps the energy of your organization and diverts critical attention from work and performance. Negativity occurs in the attitude, outlook, and talk of one department member, or in a crescendo of voices responding to a workplace decision or event. The trends in human resource industry are dynamic in nature which contributes towards to achievement of organization goals. Over the years, highly skilled and knowledge based jobs have increased while low skilled jobs are decreasing. This calls for skill mapping through proper HRM initiatives. The paper focuses on how to diagnose the workplace negativity, dealing with a negative coworker as well as negativity matters, Causes and ways to minimize negativity.


Key Words


ü  Workplace Negativity

ü  Attitude

ü  Negative coworker

ü  Diagnose




Facing the feeling of anger, fear, nervousness, depression, anxiety, complaining attitude, pessimism, selfishness, arrogance, jealousy, and vindictiveness at times is called negativity. Negativity is a brain reminder to let us know something is wrong fixes it fast. Just as there can be no light without dark there can be no positivity without negativity.” Negativity should be short lived and temporary, if not it becomes a problem for oneself, for a team and ultimately for an organisation. Workplace negativity has been called a disease of the twenty-first century. The symptoms of negativity in work are due to increased customer complaints, high turnover, low quality of work, increased absences, loss of morale and motivation, lack of creativity and innovation, loss of loyalty to the organization. Negativity is the eventual outcome of unchecked pessimism. It is a pattern of pessimistic thinking that persists over time. Individuals, teams, departments, or entire organizations can be pessimistic. Negativity is spreading unchecked like a virus through many companies; it is causing productivity and morale problems. Managing Workplace Negativity tells you exactly what can be done to kill this virus. Negativity is expensive. It costs companies millions of dollars each year. Finding "cures" for the negativity virus will directly affect the success of today's organization. It is especially hard to remain competitive if the staff's work attitude is influencing productivity and morale. Managing Workplace Negativity gives you very practical examples of how to turn around negative individuals, negative teams, and negative organizations.


What is workplace negativity?


The organisations experience spurt of negativity about changes occurring in the work. According to Gary Topchick, the author of Managing Workplace Negativity, the symptoms of a negative work environment are increased customer complaints, high turnover, low quality of work, increased absences, loss of morale and motivation, lack of creativity and innovation, loss of loyalty to the organization. When negativity goes unchecked, the employee morale slips and productivity suffers. Since the employees are preoccupied with their personal agendas and set of complaints, the team spirit is adversely affected. This surely needs to be tackled at the earliest.


The Causes of Employee Negativity


The typical workplace has its ups and downs in terms of employee negativity. Many workplaces are trying to be employee oriented. But, even the most employee oriented workplace can shudder under the weight of negative thinking. When employers understand the causes of employee negativity and put in place measures to prevent employee negativity, negativity fails to gain a foothold in the work environment. A recent study answers the question about what causes employee negativity. The study, conducted by Towers Perrin and researchers Gang & Gang, surveyed a randomly selected group of 1,100 employees and 300 senior Human Resources executives working for mid-sized and large-sized companies in the United States and Canada. Participants were asked to describe their feelings about their current work experience, They were also invited to describe an "ideal" work experience. According to Employee Benefit News, the study “used a unique emotion-based research technique called Resonance, which captured participants' spontaneous emotional responses to the total work experience.”  The study determined that the reasons for most of the employee negativity included these that I call the big five:


*       An excessive workload

*       Concerns about management’s ability to lead the company forward successfully

*       Anxiety about the future, particular longer-term job, income and retirement security

*       Lack of challenge in their work, with boredom intensifying existing frustration about workload

*       Insufficient recognition for the level of contribution and effort provided, and concerns that pay isn’t commensurate with performance.


The Employer’s Challenge in Addressing Employee Negativity


The above factors cause employee negativity. Knowing about these causes of employee negativity enables to take action to prevent or eliminate employee negativity. Here are several examples.


*      If you lose an employee and divide the work across several remaining employees, you foster employee negativity unless employees have the end in sight – a new employee with an expected arrival date.

*      Companies that experience a business downturn will experience negativity. Employees are concerned about both management and their future with the company. Insecure employees are negative and looking for the worst to happen. Following a period of financial woes, management has to work hard to regain employee trust.

*      An employee who applies for a promotional opportunity and does not get the job can be extremely negative, especially if promotional opportunities are perceived as limited. You must take great care to make sure your promotion system is fair and that employees know exactly what they need to do to get ready for the next opportunity.

*      Employees love recognition for their work. They also like to see salary increases for contributing employees. One of the most significant causes of employee negativity occurs when employees believe poor contributors received raises – especially when their own raise was below their expectations.

*      This is a snapshot of causes of employee negativity. If you can eliminate these five, you have gone a long way in the direction of building a positive, supportive work environment. You’ve minimized the potential for employee negativity


The impact of workplace negativity


U.S. companies lose about $3 billion a year to the effects of negativity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When negativity affects productivity or profitability, the company has a serious problem. Whether the cause of the negativity is internal (the personality and communication style of the individual), external (inherent in the organizational culture), or a combination of the two, the results can be devastating. The effects of negativity are measurable and can lead to these outcomes:


*      Increased customer complaints

*      Increased error rates and a lessening of work quality

*      Increased turnover

*      Increased absences and lateness

*      Increased personality conflicts

*      Loss of morale and motivation

*      Loss of loyalty to the organization

*      Loss of creativity and innovation

*      Loss of a competitive spirit


Negativity and the three C's: the influencing factors


Most of the cases of individual (and often companywide) negativity that I have witnessed over the years seem traceable to one or more of these factors:


*      Lack or loss of competence

*      Lack or loss of community

*      Lack or loss of control


Negativity as a habit


A habit is defined as something we do automatically, without thinking about it. Negativity is a habit. Being positive is also a habit. Negativity can be someone's normal reaction to life, or it could come up when one is stressed, anxious, depressed, annoyed, angry, or disappointed. One of the best ways to reduce negativity at work is to have people turn their negative habits into more positive ones. It always amazes me that most people who come across as negative are not aware of their behavior. From my experience, I would estimate that the percentage is about 80. There are three reasons why most negative people are unaware that others perceive them as such:


*      Negative people believe there is nothing wrong with their behavior. They have always behaved this way, and they never think about their attitude.

*      Negative people see others as negative and think that if others are negative it is OK for them to be negative as well. Or, in some organizations, negativity becomes the norm, and one learns to behave like others.

*      Most negative people do not get feedback on their negativity. Team members may feel that it is up to their leader to give feedback to the negativist. Customers may not say anything but just stay away the next time. Employees are probably afraid to confront their negative bosses. Most individuals in the workplace believe that negativity is part of someone's personality. They feel that they just have to learn how to live with different personalities because they cannot change someone's personality. This belief is both correct and incorrect. We have to recognize that different people have different personality types, and that it is very difficult to change personality. Most psychologists would say that personality is formed by the time we are five. Nevertheless, we have to look at the workplace behaviors that are causing someone to come across as negative and try to change them. We never want to focus on changing personality, only on changing behaviors. Whereas changing someone's personality is extremely difficult, if not impossible, changing behaviors is challenging, but it can be done.


How to Influence the Negativity


Negativity often occurs when people are impacted by decisions and issues that are out of their control. Examples of these include: corporation downsizing; understaffing that requires people to work mandatory overtime; budget reductions; and upper-management decisions that adversely impact members of your staff. Under these circumstances, try some of the following ideas.


*      Identify any aspects of the situation that you can impact including providing feedback in your organization about the negative impact that is occurring. (Sometimes decisions are made and no one understands or predicts their outcome. Sometimes you can influence an issue or a decision if you practice personal, professional courage and speak your mind.

*      Listen, listen, listen. Often people just need a sounding board. Be visible and available to staff. Proactively schedule group discussion sessions, town meetings, "lunches with the manager," or one-on-one blocks of time.

*      Challenge pessimistic thinking and negative beliefs about people, the company, and the work area. Don't let negative, false statements go unchallenged. If the statements are true, provide the rationale, the corporate thinking, and the events that are responsible for the negative circumstances. Share everything you know about a situation to build trust with the workforce.

*      Ask open-ended questions to determine the cause, and the scope of the negative feelings or reaction. Maybe it's not as bad as people think; maybe their interpretation of events is faulty. Helping people identify exactly what they feel negatively about is the first step in solving the problem.

*      Recognize that, sometimes, a negative outlook may be appropriate. If the negativity radiate from an individual, you can:


ü Inform the employee about the negative impact her negativity is having on co-workers and the department. Use specific examples that describe behaviors the employee can do something about.

ü Avoid becoming defensive. Don’t take the employee’s negative words or attitude personally.

ü Focus on creating solutions. Don’t focus on everything that is wrong and negative; focus instead on creating options for positive morale. If the person is unwilling to hold this discussion, and you feel you have fairly heard her out, end the discussion.

ü Focus on the positive aspects and contributions the individual brings to the work setting, not the negativity. Help the employee build her self-image and capacity to contribute.

ü Compliment the individual any time you hear a positive statement or contribution rather than negativity from her.

ü If none of the above is working and the employee’s negativity is impacting productivity, workplace harmony, and department members’ attitudes and morale, deal with the negativity as you would any other performance issue.


How to minimize workplace negativity?


Nothing affects employee morale more insidiously than persistent workplace negativity. It saps the energy of your organization and diverts critical attention from work and performance. Negativity occurs in the attitude, outlook, and talk of one department member, or in a crescendo of voices responding to a workplace decision or event.


Learn About Workplace Negativity


As a manager or human resources professional, it is necessary to closely in touch with employees throughout the company. This allows controlling the pulse of the organization to sense workplace negativity. If any employee complaints arise, do exit interviews with employees who leave, and know the reputation of your organization in the community. It is necessary to watch the discussions on employee Intranets, manage the appraisal and 360-degree feedback process, and coach managers in appropriate staff treatment. This information will help to identify the symptoms of negativity before its morale-busting consequences damage your workplace. It will also assist in preventing and curing workplace negativity.


Diagnose Workplace Negativity


Negativity is an increasing problem in the workplace, according to Gary S. Topchik, the author of Managing Workplace Negativity. He states, in a Management Review article, that negativity is often the result of a loss of confidence, control, or community. Knowing what people are negative about is the first step in solving the problem. When rumblings and negativity are beginning in the organization, talking with employees will help to understand the exact problems and the degree to which the problems are impacting the workplace. Identifying the exact employee groups who are experiencing the negativity and the nature of the issues that sparked their unhappiness is very important. Perhaps the organization made a decision that adversely affected staff. Perhaps the executive manager held a staff meeting and was perceived to threaten or ignore people asking legitimate questions. Maybe staff members feel insecure because concern exists over losing a product line. Perhaps underground rumors are circulating about an impending layoff. People may feel that they give the organization more than they receive in return. They may feel that a coworker was mistreated or denied a deserved promotion. Whatever the cause of the workplace negativity, the issues must be addressed. Or like a seemingly dormant volcano, they will boil beneath the surface, and periodically bubble up and overflow to cause fresh damage.


Turning Negativity into Positive Action


Negativity at work can be harmful. Negativity often results in a loss of productivity and a high rate of turnover. Negativity is contagious. The expression "misery loves company" rings true when it comes to spreading negativity around the office. Those who have negative feelings will first seek out others who feel the same way, and then try to influence those who don't. Negativity isn't always bad. It sometimes brings existing problems out of the darkness. With the problems out in the open, they can, hopefully, be resolved. Here are some tips to help you turn negativity into something that can actually help cause positive change in the workplace.


*       Criticism is Constructive: offering solutions to the problems which are pointed out.

*       Action: Take it even one step further than offering solutions to the problems about complaint.

*       Don't Try to Fix What Isn't Broken: There are some people who think everyone else is doing things the wrong way. They want to make changes just for the sake of having input. Concentrate your energy on fixing thing that are truly in need of repair.




Work environments can provide social cues to organizational members on how to act appropriately, and employees tend to conform to such expectations to receive social approval from their. Thus, if a work environment develops a strong goal orientation, employees are more likely to align their individual goal orientations with the norms of the work environment to maintain harmony with their surroundings. The goal setting enhanced the direct relationship between transformational leadership and employee commitment and performance, and concluded that goal-oriented environments provide clarification, direction, focus, and longer-term perspective needed to translate transformational leadership effectively into performance. Future research could examine the specific influence of leaders in the form of behavioral modeling and leader-member exchange on the personality--work environment performance relationship. 




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