The HR leader's guide to dealing with negativity at the workplace

HR leader's guide to dealing with workplace negativity

Conflicts between people at the workplace, unnecessary interpersonal friction, negative attitudes are run-of-the-mill challenges posed by negativity, which near about every HR professional has to deal with on a regular basis. However, in many cases, many HR leaders are always on the lookout for better solutions to manage or circumvent the negativity that may trickle into their teams. A negative mindset that begins with just one team member can easily spread throughout the team, department, or even the whole organization, if not corrected in a quick and efficient manner. When negativity becomes prevails throughout the organization, HR leaders may notice any or all of the following:

  • A negative mindset is a hurdle to constructive change.
  • A negative attitude reduces productivity.
  • A negative mindset lowers team morale, thus further reducing productivity.
  • Negative feelings and thoughts tend to act as self-fulfilling prophecies, often creating additional challenges and leading to negative outcomes for teams and organizations across the world.

In the face of negativity, an HR leader's goal is not to remove all negative feelings and thoughts from the workplace. There are a few differentiating factors between “good” negative thoughts and “bad” negative thoughts. The kind of negativity that only focuses on problems and challenges, while doing nothing to assist in avoiding or getting rid of such challenges is "bad" negativity. On the flip side, having team members who effectively play “Devil’s advocate” can bring potential problems or new ideas to the fore. This "negative analysis" can then be used to identify challenges and find efficient ways to counter them.

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Red flags for a negative mindset

Minor conflicts and some amount of negativity are common to all organizations. However, when these problems spiral out of control, they often affect teams immensely. Hence, it is always a good idea to constantly be vigilant for signs of consistent negativity at the workplace before the organization is affected by reduced morale, low productivity, higher stress levels, interpersonal friction and attrition. Here are a few of the most common signs that negativity is becoming a chronic challenge that needs quick redressal:

  • Consistent and increased levels of complaining.
  • Greater focus on why something cannot be done.
  • Hopelessness about a challenging situation.
  • When normally positive team members show uncharacteristic negative mindsets.
  • Insistence on perfect work rather than seeking excellence.
  • Denying the organization's current reality.
  • High tendency to assign blame instead of solving problems.
  • Rigid or outdated approaches to tackling challenges.

Ways to manage negative team members

When a team member consistently shows pessimistic, hostile, negative or uncooperative behaviour, they may need guidance. Here are some ways to help such employees develop a more positive and productive mindset.

  • Beware of negativity - Be careful not to let yourself get pulled into the team member’s negative attitude. Listen to what they have to say, but don’t let their opinions affect your own optimistic ideals.
  • Beware of conflict - Avoid getting into unnecessary argumentation. People who are in a negative mindset often look for arguments to prove the validity of their own points. Instead of getting caught in pointless discussions, you may look for areas of mutual agreement to help build a more positive working environment.
  • Always maintain your composure - Keep calm. Allowing yourself to be negative or angry will lower the chances of effective or productive communication between you and the employee in question.
  • Be clear and concise - Bring attention to the results of a negative mindset, such as reduced team morale. Make it clear to the negative team member the importance of professionalism at the workplace.
  • Have a solution-oriented mindset - Try to find the root of the issue at hand by questioning the employee. Encourage the employee to be frank and specific about their issues.
  • Put them in your shoes - Try role-playing the situation. Ask the negative employee to pretend that they have been asked to resolve the problem. This way, the employee can suggest their own ideas for the most viable solutions. Letting the individual be part of the solution may lead to more positive feelings about the outcome since they helped create it.

Dictating the “correct” answer to a problem can lead to team members accusing you if a solution doesn’t work, or they may even feel “coerced” into agreeing with your ideas.

  • Lend them an ear - Practise active listening. This ensures that you are learning about the employee's mindset and problems accurately.
  • Empowerment can help fight negativity - Practise empowering employees. Prevent employees from developing the “victim” mindset. Encourage team members to take credit for “positive” outcomes. This can make team members work harder to achieve positive outcomes again. This can also help employees realize that they have the capability to change or avoid "negative" outcomes in the future.

In closing

A negative mindset is detrimental to the productivity of teams at the workplace. However, using the strategies above, HR leaders address the challenges put forth by negativity and improve morale and productivity at the workplace. Using positive communication methods can help create a winning environment that benefits the workforce and the organization in the process.

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