Combatting negativity in the workplace

Workplace Negativity

The Negative Individual

Sportsman John Brodie said: “There are certain times when an entire team will leap up a few notches…every ounce of their attention- and intention- focused on a common goal, and all their energy flowing in the same direction.”

This anecdote was shared by academics Beck and Hillmar and illustrates the essence of a positive working environment, one that they say is united, aware, contributing without constraint, listening, supporting, taking risks and trusting.

But what happens when an individual is negative, when they’re obstructive, unhelpful, pessimistic, and this begins to impact upon the team? We discuss how you can deal with negativity in the workplace.

Beck and Hillmar talk of energy as being the vitality and vigour of an organisation which enables staff to complete tasks, develop and maintain relationships and think creatively, but they say that this energy can be neutralised by the presence of negative employees.

And they also suggest ways of dealing with negativity like cultural transformation as even unconscious or non-verbalised norms can contribute greatly to the feel of an organisation- and people’s attitudes within it.

Consider Why

If negativity is present, it is sensible to consider why. One concept for understanding negativity is that of negative affectivity (NA) and positive affectivity (PA).

Researchers Watson and Clark found that people with high NA are more likely to see the negatives in situations, so when a new project is mooted, they will be the ones pointing out every flaw and problem.

Conversely, those with low NA (and high PA) are more likely to view themselves and the world in a more positive light. Whether an individual has positive or negative affectivity will greatly impact upon their overall job performance, and helping staff to understand their predisposition to negativity could help their self-regulation.

Certainly, not all negativity is down to an individual being depressed, but this is something that should perhaps be considered. Beck’s cognitive model of depression found that depressed individuals were more likely to experience negative thoughts and have more negative beliefs generally that a non-depressed individual.

Those that are depressed will also predict that others’ behaviours will match their own, i.e. that they think that their working conditions are poor and therefore they think that others will too.

Workplace Negativity

Workplace Negativity

Culture can impact energy

As Beck and Hillmar suggested, organisational culture can impact upon energy and negativity. Rousseau talked about psychological contracts or the accepted norms and values of an organisation, and a staff member’s perception of the agreement between them and their employer.

Transactional psychological contracts are ones that are primarily economic in nature whilst relational contracts are characterised by more emotional needs. Research suggests that the more transactional an employee feels their psychological contract is, the more negative they can feel.

Exploring this area with employees, and placing more emphasis upon the relational aspects of their position can help staff to have more positive attitudes.

A complex issue

We have seen that negativity can be a far more complex issue than someone who is being deliberately obstructive for no apparent reason. There are dispositional considerations, a need for awareness around mental health as well as a desire to understand organisational culture and the psychological contract within this.

Negativity can be an extremely destructive force within the workplace, one that can quickly pervade the culture and become the norm. But getting to the root of ‘why’ is the first step in combating negativity.

Workplace Negativity

Introvert or Extrovert

About the Author

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London,, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors.

Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.