Top 10 Causes of Workplace Negativity & Tips for Overcoming Them

Top 10 Causes of Workplace Negativity & Tips for Overcoming Them
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A negative employee is no fun to be around. In fact, the attitude can be contagious. Following are 10 frequent causes of negativity, in no particular order. Knowing potential reasons for employees to become stressed and distressed will help you assess the conditions of your workplace and determine appropriate solutions.

1. Can I Stop You for a Second?

Interruptions are certainly to be expected, in the workplace as well as anywhere else. These days, however, we tend to let ourselves become sidetracked by technology. For instance, an employee may be in the midst of a lengthy report when his inbox alerts him of a new email, he receives a text message about his kid’s soccer game being cancelled and he notices that he has some Facebook messages waiting.

Add to this the everyday intrusions of ringing phones, questions from colleagues and unexpected visits from clients and you may have a stressed out, pessimistic staff member. Encourage employees to focus on the task at hand at block out distractions whenever possible. You may even want to consider controlling Internet usage, blocking access to social networking sites and personal email accounts.

2. High School Personalities

Although at least most of the people you work with are probably fully-grown adults, at times it might seem like everyone is a teenager again. Many workplaces have a bully or two, multiple cliques and those who feel that they are victims of or ostracized by them. People who feel threatened, belittled or excluded by their colleagues (or supervisors) will be justifiably unhappy, which can translate into negative feelings about their jobs.

If you notice such behavior, take steps to correct it immediately. Put policies in place against malicious gossip and enforce them. Use training, team building activities and retreats to break down barriers, decrease division and foster understanding. Never tolerate harassment of any kind, and let employees know that they can report bullying without fear of retaliation.

3. Remember the Loners

Support isolated workers.

While telecommuting has its benefits, with more people doing so at least part of the time, employees might feel isolated, unsupported and not like an important part of the team. Taking steps to keep them in the loop will help your non-traditional staff members understand that they do matter to your organization.

Perhaps the best way to find out what would help them feel engaged is to ask them what might help. Include them in as many communications as possible, from emails to conference calls to meetings, whether in person or via the web.

4. The Copier’s Down - Again

Man Trying To Break Laptop

If your team is not armed with the tools they need to perform their jobs, negative attitudes are just around the corner. At the very least, make sure the basic necessities are in prime condition.

Employees should be able to access the Internet quickly on computers that don’t take 20 minutes to boot up; supplies such as paper, ink and writing utensils should be available at all times; and office machines should be in good working order a majority of the time.

5. Change Is Inevitable

As you go about upgrading and updating to ensure that your employees do have the instruments they need, there will likely be times when you find that you need a whole new software or equipment setup. While your staff might be initially excited about the changes, when reality sets in and everyone has to learn a new system, negative can creep in. Be sure to provide ample training and time to adjust, as well as support once the system is in place.

6. “Not My Fault” Culture

Finger Pointing

Our culture has a tendency to want to blame someone or something for everything that goes wrong. When fingers are constantly being pointed, people are likely to sidestep acknowledging responsibility to avoid landing in hot water yet again, and start wondering what they’ll be in trouble for at work today.

If it seems as though your team members avoid speaking their mind, taking risks or claiming accountability for mistakes, start at the top. Convince those in leadership roles to look at errors as opportunities for learning and improvement whenever possible. Encourage employees to take chances and share ideas without the fear of repercussions if they are wrong. Applaud those who come forward and own up to gaffes as an example for others.

7. Too Much or Not Enough

Woman Sitting On Briefcase

When employees consistently have an unrealistically heavy workload, it is easy to understand why they might feel stressed out and cynical. On the other side of that same coin, however, workers who are not being challenged enough can have negative feelings as well. They may worry that their jobs are at risk, or they might simply feel bored and burnt out.

Make sure overworked staff members have the support that they need, whether it is in the form of additional training or sharing the load with others. For those experiencing monotony, consider cross-training them in other areas.

8. When Anxiety Attacks


It is normal to experience stress on the job from time to time. In some fields, working under pressure is an everyday experience. When employees feel uncertain, nervous or apprehensive about their jobs or their ability to perform them, however, anxiety can set in and cause discontent.

If you have had to lay off some workers or there are rumors about downsizing, do your best to explain the current situation and ease as many fears as possible. Even if the situation is uncertain, keeping open communication with your team will remove some of the fear of the unknown. For employees who are anxious about their own abilities, offer extra training and support as needed.

9. Needing Clarification


Employees who are unclear about their job descriptions or responsibilities can become unsettled and feel put upon when asked to complete tasks that they don’t believe are theirs to perform. Make sure everyone receives a copy of his or her job description annually as well as any time changes are made to them. Keep a signed copy in employee files as well. Let your staff know that they can come to you at any time should they feel they have been assigned duties outside of their job scope, as well.

10. You Don’t Appreciate Me

Public Appreciation

Letting your employees know that you value and appreciate their efforts can stave off negativity as well. If your team members feel like all of their hard work is unrecognized, they are likely to feel resentful and taken for granted.

Fortunately, doing so can be easy and inexpensive. A word of thanks and a pat on the back, a letter or award expressing your gratitude or publicly acknowledging a job well done can mean the difference between a disgruntled employee with one foot out the door and a dedicated team member who is always willing to go the extra mile.