One of the established researches recently stated that people are more prone to criticizing things at their workplace rather than appreciating them.
Negative approach towards work leads to loss of productivity and quality. Negative approach towards people leads to erosion of trust and negative approach towards systems leads to non compliance.
A negative employee is someone who is not only dissatisfied but also disengaged. He finds emotional comfort in sharing his unhappiness with others. He tries to be critical about things around him and would strive hard to pinpoint problems and issues. He is under the impression that system and environment around him is not supportive and there is nothing which can be done to improve things. His commitment to the company is low and he shares low trust equation with everyone.
The pessimistic quotient goes up when the organization is going through a change or transition. It is also most common in employees who are either new to the organization or have lived most their life in the same organization and feel there is nothing more to look forward to.
Some of the primary reasons for having a negative outlook are expectation mismatch, communication gaps, incomplete information, suppressed communication channels, favouritism, frustration, personality type. Most often, it is the supervisor who is the matter of discussion.
Employees generally have strong viewpoints on various organizational elements like career progression, compensation, job content, workload, work life balance, culture, resources, rewards & recognition etc and consider it their right to comment on these.
Well, such employees are found in almost every organization and it is not very difficult to identify them. The problem is that most employers tend to overlook or ignore them without realising that this can cause a long term dent to the culture and spoil the working environment through continuous negativity. Negativity is like a contagious disease which will spread internally and corrode the work environment slowly.
So, what can be done to handle negativity at workplace?
First and foremost, identify the sources of negativity to ascertain where this is coming from, who the active elements are and what could be the possible causes for this. If it is a systemic issue and can be corrected, a genuine attempt in addressing it will send out a positive signal to all the employees especially the dissenters. But it might be possible that this negativity is emanating from the inherent nature of the employee or because of their individual failures. The employee might have unrealistic expectations from the system and is not open to understanding the organizational constraints and realities.
Such employees need corrective counselling. HR should hold a 1-to-1 dialogue with the member in-order to understand the exact causal factors. In most of the cases, one would find that there is a cultural fitment issue with them their personal values differ from that of the employer.
Continuous feedback goes a long way in addressing this. An employee should be categorically told about his strengths, weaknesses, limitations and where he stands vis-à-vis others so that there no disconnect between employee’s self perception and organization’s perspective.
The bigger challenge is to handle senior employees who have been veterans in the company and are venting out their frustration in form of negative talks and discussions. Such employees are under the assumption that nobody can challenge them. These employees hold strong opinions about the company and are very critical to developments around them. What will help is involving them in decision making to the extent possible and also assigning ownership to them. Negativity or Toxicity in any system would aggravate if leaders and people managers are themselves a party to it. It is said that culture flows from top and any level of acceptance or participation from senior employees will only reinforce the belief that there is something really wrong with the system.
Members who are always cribbing or highlighting problems in different forums should be asked to come forward with solutions or alternatives.
Regular employee surveys and suggestion boxes are also effective tools for capturing the negative vibes which are coming from within. Such comments and statements should be objectively evaluated and screened and proper actions should be taken to stem them.
Many a times, organizations assign Individual contributor roles to such employees to contain their attitude. They may be put on assignments which require limited interaction with other employees.
Another way of dealing with such behaviours is to proactively involve the employees in various decisions and planning activities. Assign them SPOC responsibilities. Such ownership will increase their stake in the organizational events and hence they will be duly responsible for whatever follows.
As an HR professional, we need to closely watch out for incidents & events which can trigger any kind of negative behaviour. For example, somebody passed over for promotion, hikes which are not in commensurate with employee expectation, low incentive earnings, during restricting and layoffs, during mergers and acquisitions, during supervisor change, change in roles and responsibilities, location transfers etc. The employee may not react favourably to these change elements and might end up speaking ill about these things. During such phases, employee is more vulnerable to company of negative people around and may join their bandwagon to get emotional comfort.
The HR person should keep a close watch on these employees and openly communicate with them before their concerns or discomforts find ways and solace in negative talks and cribbers within the organization.