Employer Advice on Handling Negativity in the Workplace

Peninsula Team

August 26 2020

It goes without saying that negativity in the workplace is bad for your business. It creates unnecessary hostility and stress for everyone. It affects employee productivity and morale and in the long run, it may cause a high staff turnover. 

Behaviours such as gossiping, favouritism, unilateral decision making, poor team management, etc., may contribute to negative attitudes in the workplace. But negativity in the workplace can be dealt with good people management strategies. If you build your workplace culture on certain best practices, you’ll be able to keep negativity out of your work environment. Here are some tips on how to handle negativity in the workplace: 

Get to the root of the problem

It is important to consider whether a workplace issue is causing an atmosphere of negativity or if it is due to certain negative people. Both cases should be handled differently. 

a. Negativity related to a workplace issue

In this case, you may want to find out what caused discontentment among your staff. For example, an unpopular policy, a rumour or a short-tempered supervisor may be adversely affecting the productivity of your employees. The best approach in this situation is to have a one-on-one discussion with the people/department concerned. Speaking individually to everyone involved will help you get the complete picture and arrive at a solution agreeable to all.

b. Negativity due to people with bad attitudes

If the negative behaviours of certain employees are affecting the work environment, have an honest discussion with them. It could be that they are going through some personal issues that they are, unwittingly, bringing to the workplace. When you talk to them, be specific about behaviours (eg. instances of slacking, complaining, yelling, bullying) that are creating problems and are unacceptable. A general discussion on their bad attitude may be taken as a personal attack.

Keep the discussion positive by praising their traits you value. Explain how their career would benefit if they worked on their problem. However, depending on how serious and recurring the problem has been, you may want to issue (written) warnings to such employees. It may also be that in the past such behaviours may have gone unchecked. In that case, it’ll be helpful to educate the employee of the consequences of continuing negative behaviours. 

Listen and introspect

Approach all discussions related to employee discontent with an open mind. Reflect on whether the company is doing enough to support the staff and to create a positive work environment. If your staff is feeling short-changed, is there a valid reason for it? If there is, how do you plan to address this going forward? Don’t go into the discussion with a dismissive or resentful attitude. Address reasonable concerns with the seriousness they deserve. 

Avoid favouritism 

While it is natural to get along better with some people than others, it is unprofessional to play favourites at work. Nothing creates more resentment and bitterness at work than when some employees get preferential treatment. Don’t indulge in favouritism. Treat all your workers with fairness and respect. Create a merit-based reward system and set the same rules for everyone.

Celebrate achievements

The best way to boost staff morale is by recognizing their good work. Delegate and don’t micromanage. Mentor rather than monitor. Treat your employees like responsible adults. Give them ownership of their tasks and trust them to get the work done.

Invest in your employees

Lack of growth or career enhancement may also cause employees to feel demotivated and unhappy. It is important that you provide opportunities for growth to your employees through promotions, workshops and training. 

Organize work socials

Team activities and social gatherings are a good way to help your employees bond. Getting your team to relax, play or take part in a fun activity together will build a rapport among your staff.

Have a grievance redressal system

Put a system in place to address any grievances or contentious issues as they arise. Encourage your employees to approach you to discuss any problem they may be experiencing at work. Talking it out with the management in an honest and friendly discussion may help prevent build-up of negative emotions. It will also make your employees feel heard and valued.  When you change or introduce new policies or procedures affecting your staff, ask for their feedback as well. Act on the feedback if the concerns that come up are reasonable. 

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