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Tips on Staying Positive in a Negative Environment at Work

Updated on November 22, 2012
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 18 years in the public sector.

Negativity in the workplace can be a disruptive force that must be checked regularly by management.
Negativity in the workplace can be a disruptive force that must be checked regularly by management. | Source

Negativity in the Workplace is a Common Problem

Negative attitudes in the workplace are as common as lunch breaks and watercooler gossip. Employees, after all, are human beings with emotions and thoughts that sometimes produce negative actions and unsavory workplace behaviors. Almost every employer has at least one chronic complainer whose influence on innocent co workers can be a sort of cancer that spreads around the workplace. This form of workplace disruption can be managed by both employees who are forced to work side by side with the negative employee, and the unlucky supervisor who must manage them to keep much drama from preventing a healthy and productive environment.

Reasons for a Workplace to Be Negative

What are some of the reasons that cause a workplace to become so negative? There are many causes for poor employee attitudes and a general sense of negativity that emanates throughout an organization. Some commonplace examples are:

  1. Distrust - A general sense of distrust toward management and/or co workers can lead to an an employee's apathy toward the work and overall work team. Since having faith and trust in those who are to assist and lead the employee throughout the work experience, a breakdown of this important element is likely to lead to some hostile or negative feelings for the employee.
  2. Poor Supervision - Employees who have poor leadership are likely to display negativity by being uncooperative with co workers and unmotivated to do their job. Since supervisors are the individuals who must address disruptive negative behavior, it can surely be disastrous if the supervisor is not trained to do the job effectively.
  3. Challenging Economy - Employees absorb the emotions and sense of what is happening within the organization and outside of it. While the employee might be employed, they may have not had a raise in a long time with costs rising all around them in terms of gas, groceries, utility bills, etc. Some employees in the organization may have spouse who is unemployed and are experiencing serious pressure to keep their job and provide for their family.
  4. Personal Problems - While an employee's personal problems are private, circumstances are often challenging for the employee who must bring a "clear head" to work, and leave the problems at home. People are not robots who can just shut off emotions when they clock in for work. An employee might be experiencing health issues, marital problems, financial issues, etc. These issues will surely create some hard feelings to control when an employee is at work.

Understanding the reasons that can cause negative attitudes at the workplace is just the advantage that a supervisor needs to overcome disruptions and potential employee relations in the work environment. Ignoring them and failing to take actions to solve negativity is a huge mistake because of the potential significant effects on all team members in an organization.

Choose to interact with co workers in a positive manner.

Employees who decide to present a good attitude at work can set a good example for others to follow.  An employee who demonstrates a willingness to avoid participation in negativity will project a confidence that will advance them in their career.
Employees who decide to present a good attitude at work can set a good example for others to follow. An employee who demonstrates a willingness to avoid participation in negativity will project a confidence that will advance them in their career. | Source

Tips to Avoid Getting Sucked into the Negativity

Employees who find themselves working in a workplace that has a lot of negative energy can make some decisions for themselves to stay out of the way of issues with others. Consider the following tips:

  • Try to keep conversations professional at all times. When an employee finds himself/herself in a conversation with a co worker who starts a discussion in a negative tone and talks poorly about others, it will be an opportune moment to share with them the desire to stay out of such conversations. It is important to let those around know that such gossip or negative discourse is not something that is productive and certainly inappropriate as it can be hurtful or just downright mean in nature. Once employees who engage in this negativity realize that certain employees do not like to participate in this negative activity, they will stop attempting to draw them into such activity. Keeping conversations with these employees at a professional and pleasant manner will show true character to others.
  • Avoid the sparring or "tit for tat" style of conversation. Co-workers who participate in this type of behavior are stuck in a rut or pattern of sorts. This unproductive example of conversing between employees will reach higher levels of hostility when the topic of dispute gets personal. This activity is unproductive because employees are unable to move forward to get resolve on any issues. The likely result will be someone's feelings getting hurt when the comments reach an offensive and personal level.
  • Discuss concerns about negativity with supervisor for some feedback and direction. Employees who have tried to handle negative employees on their own without success should consider getting management involved. Negativity in action often resembles bullying or some sort of coercion to think and act a certain way. If employees feel they are the target of negativity, it might be a good time to seek advice from management or Human Resources. These professionals should be looking out for the interest of all employees and will naturally have an interest in getting a resolution for employees affected by the negativity or unsatisfactory work behavior.
  • Set a good example for others to follow. The best defense an employee can practice with negativity in the workplace is to just avoid it and not practice any similar actions. Employees do not have to be defined by the negativity that is the chosen activity of a few employees in the workplace. Rather, employees should define the workplace with good behavior, hard work and strong character that resists the temptation to just whine and complain about a job. Constructively handling problems that create a negative workplace can be addressed by taking a positive, professional approach to the issues.

Employees will want to involve management and/or Human Resources when they feel negativity has gotten to a level that is destructive to the workplace. While the list of tips above does not include all possible ways to approach negativity, it certainly provides some guidance as to possible ways to handle negativity of others at work. Supervisors must stay aware of negativity to address problems that rise to the level of needing management's assistance. Bullying and hurtful gossip are two examples of negativity that should be a priority for the organization.

Some Closing Remarks About Negativity in the Workplace

Negativity can be a powerful presence that affects all employees, whether they share in believing the negativity or not. The pressures that employees feel from outside influences make them handle these pressures in a variety of ways. Some individuals start displaying negative attitudes as a result of serious challenges that have reached a level that is no longer tolerable for them. Supervisors must be able to sense when these employees need attention, and, consequently, know how to handle their negative attitudes before they become a large issue for the entire workplace.

Chronic Complainer

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