Strategies to Overcome Negative Attitude in the Workplace

25 Feb 2013

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Workers during May  Day Celebration

By Linda Eroke

In recent years, organisations are confronted with the challenges of merging staff from different culture, background and with different attitudes. Specifically companies are challenged to find ways to help their employees have an environment that is positive and empowering.

This is because negative workplace attitudes are highly contagious and can affect everyone. They can reduce overall productivity, damage group morale, and even cause the loss of good employees. Even when a few people in the workplace have negative attitudes, it can spread to others as well, because negative workplace attitudes are believed to spread faster than positive attitudes.

Getting rid of negative attitudes in the workplace is vital for organisations. This is because without a way of controlling the spread of negativity within the office, the effect can spread create a very bad environment for people to work in.

Keith Harrell in an article on ‘Attitude in the Workplace’ said one of the challenges facing management and co-workers today is dealing with difficult people - those who have negative attitudes.

She said: “It is important to note that a person with a negative attitude has the same power to influence others as a person with a positive attitude. The difference appears in the results. Positive attitudes in the workplace have many benefits, including improved communications, better teamwork, increased morale and higher productivity. The opposite is true for negative attitudes. They dismantle teamwork, increase stress and cripple productivity. In the workplace, the big difference between the winners and the losers is often attitude”. 

According to Harrell, the salesperson who sells more, the manager who inspires her people, the manufacturing supervisor who sets the tone for everybody around them, are all good examples of what attitude does for you and everybody around you.

Causes of Negative Workplace Attitudes
There are a number of factors that can encourage negative workplace attitudes. Human resource experts have examined some factors that can encourage negative attitudes in organisations. They explained that today’s work environment has changed dramatically partly as a result of the economic recession.

They listed other causes of negative workplace relationships to include diversity, performance, ineffective leadership, poor working conditions and inadequate wages and compensation.

Companies are either “downsizing,” “rightsizing,” “merging” or “being acquired.” This has thrown a lot of people into the unemployment market while those who remain are wondering when their turns will come. These are the kind of circumstances that can cause frustration and attitudinal change.

More worrisome is the fact that all sectors of the economy have been badly affected by unethical practices, greed and unpleasant lifestyle which have smeared the country’s image internationally. This is a source of worry not only for organizations but government.

Susan Heathfield, a human resource expert said the underlying cause of negativity is based on faulty information, incorrect assumptions, or deliberate misinformation. She said “You may receive feedback that a new policy or procedure is not understood correctly. People may be misinterpreting a corporate memo.

In her article on “Cures for Negativity” Heathfield said negativity often occurs when people are impacted by decisions and issues that are out of their control. These, she stated, includes corporation downsizing; understaffing that requires people to work mandatory overtime; budget reductions; and upper-management decisions that adversely impact members of your staff.

Also, Ruth Mayhew, another human resource expert, explained that workplace relationships can deteriorate between two individual employees, between employees and their managers or between the workforce and company leadership.

According to her, diversity, performance, ineffective leadership, poor working conditions and inadequate wages and compensation are a few of the reasons that coworkers find it difficult to maintain a collegial environment. This, they say, can cause conflicts, hurt feelings, and the possibility of scandal and sabotage.

There are a number of ways in which negative workplace attitudes can cause problems in a work environment. Michele McDonough said negative attitude can hinder creativity and innovation, and can lead to employees being more defensive and protective, which isn’t productive behaviour.

“People tend to be much less focused on work when there is an overall bad attitude in the office. Less work tends to be done as a group when there is a problem with negative workplace attitudes, not only because of the lack of overall productivity, but because much time is wasted with gossip and complaining. The overall loyalty of employees tends to drop, as well as group camaraderie and teamwork,” McDonough said.

Getting Rid of Negative Workplace Attitudes
Therefore offsetting negative attitudes within the workplace requires far more than simply ignoring negative behaviour and focusing only on job duties and tasks. Human resource experts have expressed strong view that negative attitudes in the workplace should be dealt with promptly to prevent irreparable damage to employee morale and job satisfaction among other employees.

They harped on the need for organisations to find ways to reduce negative workplace attitudes, and encourage positive attitudes and cooperation.

Mayhew, in an article on ‘How to Offset Negative Attitude in the Workplace’ examined different steps that should be adopted towards overcoming negative workplace attitudes.

She stressed the need human resource managers to observe employees performing their job tasks and note any negative interactions among employees. She said: “If you witness employees engaging in obvious behaviour that contradicts company policy or guidelines, address it immediately with documented proof of the incident and disciplinary review or corrective action.

“An example of behaviour in obvious violation of workplace policy is a rude or unprofessional interaction with customers or clients. If your business is service-oriented, customers are the lifeblood of your organisation. Therefore, your employee handbook and other workplace policies should plainly state the company’s expectations for employee interactions with customers or clients and the consequences of violations”.

Human resource managers, she said, must conduct an employee opinion survey with questions developed specifically for employee feedback on working conditions that can contribute to negativity.

She explained that “There are a multitude of reasons employees harbor negative feelings about working--long hours, high productivity demands, ineffective leadership and overall working conditions. Asking employees to “describe concerns about your office space or work area, including equipment, lighting, seating or proximity to required supplies and materials” or "explain the challenges you have with balancing work responsibilities with time off to enjoy outside interests" elicits information that can help you identify employee stressors that contribute to negative attitudes at work”.

She stressed that HR personnel should research different types of negative attitudes and employee behaviour. He said: “An employee who reacts to a specific incident with frustration may express a short-lived negative attitude. When an employee experiences a series of events or a work situation that is continually frustrating, the negative attitude can persist for a longer period. This results in employees expressing negative attitudes about working conditions”.

She added: “Examine survey answers to determine causes of negative attitudes. Employee responses to your survey questions also will shed light on whether negative attitudes are widespread and whether the negativity is due to an employee’s mood, or if the negativity is due to continued problems in the workplace or if the employee's negative attitude is dispositional (just part of the employee's personality). Situational negativity is the easiest to resolve, since it involves a discrete action that is easy to correct. An ergonomic issue, for instance, is situational because it can be remedied with attention to workplace configuration”.

She maintained that specific employee attitudes should be discussed with the employee’s manager. She continued: “Review the employee’s personnel file, performance appraisals, attendance records and disciplinary reviews with the supervisor or manager present. Point out areas that may underlie the employee’s attitude changes and ask her manager for an on-the-spot assessment of the employee’s attitude.

“Listen to the manager’s feedback and offer suggestions for remedying any employee-manager interaction you believe is inappropriate or not constructive. If you detect signs of ineffective leadership, recommend leadership training or refresher training. Poor communication between employees and managers and failure to provide employees with constructive, useful feedback are signs that the manager may need leadership training”.

She further stressed the need for management to schedule an all-staff meeting to discuss the effects personal attitudes have on the entire workforce. “Give examples of how negative attitudes impede progress.

“Explain how the need to constantly address negative behaviours can disrupt workflow. Make recommendations on how to eliminate negativity from the workplace through a conscious effort to build a collegial work environment. Encourage introspection, suggesting that each employee conduct a self-assessment to reveal what underlies frustration or dissatisfaction”.

Concluding, she said management should challenge employees to work collaboratively and to create a synergistic work environment; make specific requests, such as giving a co-worker a compliment every day or consciously setting aside negative feelings in the workplace. She said: “Remind employees of benefits available to them to help with managing personal matters, such as an employee assistance program. Invite employees to visit the human resources department if they have specific concerns about negative attitudes.
Mayhew added: “When you can control or influence the situation, use a systematic problem-solving process with the affected employees to improve the identified areas of negativity. Do this as quickly as you determine that negativity exists. (Many Human Resources offices launch a complete investigation, and by the time the facts are gathered, the negativity is out of control.)

“Include the employees who are closest to the negative situation in the problem-solving process. Do a good cause analysis so that all possible causes of the negativity are identified. It is not enough to say, “We have low morale.” You need to identify exactly what is causing the low morale to have any chance of improving it. Solicit widespread input to each step of the action plan you develop so that solutions are “owned” across your organisation. Involve as many people as you can in its development and particularly in its implementation. Implement the chosen solutions quickly.

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