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Working and Career

My Workplace Is Negative

December 3, 2012 8:24am (EST)
(Photo Courtesy of <a href=http://designbuddy.com/>Derek Kimball via stock.xchng</a>.)
(Photo Courtesy of Derek Kimball via stock.xchng.)

I get it. The last several years have been tough. “Do more with less… there won’t be any raises this year… you are lucky to have a job… we may have to close our doors tomorrow…” Working day-in and day-out under these conditions can get to anyone. A therapist colleague told me a story that I think captures this sentiment perfectly. Several years ago he had a client who was in a highly toxic, negative and abusive relationship. No matter what he did, he couldn’t get her to change her perspective. One day he finally came to a realization. Here’s what he told her: “I’m a very healthy person. And yet, if I were in the relationship you are in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I would be just as broken-down, lost and as negative as you are.” Workplace negativity can get to us. To that point, here was a question I received over the past week from a reader that I think sums up many of our collective feelings of frustration at the office:

"Where we work, the morale is terrible. Everyone is overworked, frustrated with our demanding customers and generally burned out. As a result, we are handling stress in negative and unhealthy ways. What specific tools can we use to change the negative and unhealthy ways we are handling stress? For example, I would like to put a punching bag in the back so we can hit it as a way to vent and then hopefully go about our business a bit happier."

To feel so stressed and frustrated that the idea of hitting something sounds like the perfect cure truly says it all. And to the reader’s question, what is the right solution? Is a punching bag in the back room the answer or is it something else? While a punching bag may sufficiently empty out the negativity from our veins, it doesn’t resolve the core issue. Negativity has infected our workplaces and unless treated, no amount of punching bags are going to fix the problem.

Stomping Out Negativity At Work

Below are a few different treatment options for eliminating negativity at work. Feel free to take them in combination. Daily doses are recommended.

  • Leadership needs to declare war. A critical starting place for eliminating negativity at work is for leadership to take a stand and declare all-out war against any forms of negativity at work. This can be the boss or a team decision. Regardless, those who lead need to announce that negativity is no longer welcome and they must be prepared to confront it at every turn. What does this mean? I’ve seen leaders who are serious about fighting negativity send an employee home when they become “infected.”
  • Make it a game. A second treatment option is to turn the negative moments at work into positive events by reframing them. In other words, make it a game. For example, I worked with an insurance company several years ago that had developed an interesting way to combat negativity at work. During the week, customer service reps would take a beating with disgruntled customers. At the end of each week, reps would meet and share their most difficult customer interactions. Whoever had the most difficult or challenging encounter won the “crazy customer” trophy. A huge oversized trophy, the “crazy customer” trophy would live at the desk of the rep who won it until the next week when more stories were shared. Games and fun competition can take a negative event and create a more playful team experience.
  • Throw out all the bad apples. Sometimes negative work environments are the product of a bad apple – an employee who is so negative he / she is poisoning everyone else. If there is a bad apple coworker in your midst, inviting them to leave is a necessary first step.

There you have it – strategies for eliminating negativity at work. Feel free to combine any of the above remedies. Take regularly and often.

Of course, if nothing else works throw up the bag in the back and wear it out. Who knows? You might find you have a future in the ring.

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