Negativity At The Office…We Can’t Blame It On The Weather

Posted on March 22, 2015.

It’s not your imagination…the bad weather a third of the country experienced this winter put everyone a little on edge.  To endure the amount of snow that fell in Boston without one grumpy day would take a particularly happy saint. 

Still, despite multiple studies on the effects of the weather on a person’s state of mind, there is no excuse for chronic bad behavior at the office.

I’m not saying we should all walk around beaming unicorns and rainbows; everyone has off days and nobody’s perfect. But negativity has a way of rooting itself in an office and spreading like poison ivy, which is bad for business and everyone’s mental health. This article in New York magazine’s “Science of Us” section offers insight into recent research suggesting that focusing on the negative directly affects employees’ ability to concentrate and be productive.

So, what do you do about it? First, make sure you’re setting a good example.  Managers are leaders, and that lack of enthusiasm and general malaise sucking the life out of your group’s productivity may be a direct result of your management style. As we’ve heard before, three out of four working adults say the worst part of their job is their boss. Taking an unbiased look at your own behavior isn’t easy but it’s worth the effort. If you’re a toxic manager, nothing will change until you do, and before long you might even find yourself out of a job.

Once you’ve confirmed that, indeed, you manage flawlessly, take the following initial steps toward addressing office negativity:

Nurture Positivity Daily.  When someone has a good idea or points out a problem, acknowledge them. Even if suggestions are not implemented, doing so makes it clear that participation in and focusing on improvement is rewarded. Start each day with an email thanking someone for their work or efforts, and always open each meeting by recognizing something going well at the office or someone’s contribution toward a goal.  These things may seem small and may be out of your comfort zone, but  subtly setting the right tone is a powerful way to initiate change.

Actively Address Negative Nellies.  Bad apples, office zombies…whatever you call them, every office has one. Too often they go unchecked or unreformed.  I say unreformed because often complainers are your best employees in disguise and just need a little redirection.  As for the rest, addressing the poor behavior whenever it occurs in a constructive way will, over time, change the pattern.  But sometimes an individual’s negativity is so pervasive that no amount of intervention will change things, and the only thing to do then is to embark upon the firing process. One bad apple really can ruin the bunch.

Hire Optimists.  When filling positions, actively seek not only those qualified but also evaluate attitude. Look for enthusiasm. Pay attention to the language they use during interviews when describing their role on their last job. Ask questions that reveal whether they are solution-oriented or focus on the negative.  And trust your gut