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Managing Negativity at Work
October 25, 2016


Negativity is CONTAGIOUS! An employee sharing negative comments and experiences inadvertently fuels their co-workers to do the same. Soon the entire organization can be seething in a dismal attitude.  Negativity can destroy the focus, creativity and productivity of your organization.  It can motivate employees to look for job opportunities elsewhere, thus decreasing employee retention.  It is estimated that turnover costs a company up to twice as much as the position’s salary they are replacing.  If there is a negative work atmosphere, chances are the best employees will be those headed out the door first. collected information from leading agricultural businesses about hurdles that can quickly impact an organization’s environment.  The following general obstacles can be applied to all agribusinesses:

  • Joint ventures/acquisitions/mergers

  • Rapid company expansion

  • Multiple remote locations

  • Management communication

  • Overall economic environment and how the organization is impacted

  • Company benefits

The consensus was that senior management plays an important role in setting the stage on how such areas are managed.  If the above areas are not addressed properly they can adversely impact overall employee attitude.

Managing negativity is essential to retain top employees and increase productivity. High turnover rates may be the only clue that negativity is prominent.  Sometimes managers may not be aware of negativity making its way across the office.  Employees often talk around the ‘water cooler’ about policies, co-workers, projects and other issues they don’t feel comfortable sharing with their bosses. 

Creating a positive work atmosphere starts with managers and leaders.  Begin by letting go of any negative opinions you may have about your employees.  Approach each of them as a source of unique knowledge with something valuable to contribute to the company. Likewise, keep your opinions on company policies to yourself.  For instance, you may not be a fan of your company’s benefits package, but don’t share that with employees you supervise. 

Questions to Ask

Business leaders and managers need to ask themselves and their employees these questions to quell negativity:

  1. Do employees feel as if what they are doing is important? Are they connected to the organization’s goals?

  2. Do employees understand their role? Have expectations of what is wanted from them been made clear to them?

  3. Do employees feel as if they are advancing in their careers? Are they growing, developing and improving themselves?

  4. Are employees getting frequent and regular informal feedback on performance in addition to an annual performance evaluation?

  5. Does the employee have a good relationship with his/her immediate supervisor?

  6. Does the organization have strong values, a compelling vision, and inspirational leadership?

An organization must be proactive in regards to negativity.  Do you foresee a major change in your business that could be perceived as negative?  Ask employees for their input before implementing new programs or making major changes.  Form an employee committee to come up with suggestions for implementation or dealing with a situation in a manner that will be seen more positively. 

Employee Feedback

Since often employees do not share their opinions with supervisors, it is important to give them an opportunity to provide feedback.  Try to obtain feedback from current employees so you can make appropriate changes to aid in retention. 

Constantly ask how YOU are doing in your employees’ eyes.  It can be difficult for managers to request employee feedback and it can be equally, if not more, challenging for an employee to give the person who evaluates them an honest response. To get strong at this skill and to model it for employees is important. Begin dialogs with employees using conversation starters such as:

  • It's one of my goals to constantly improve myself as a manager. What would you like to see me do differently?

  • What could I be doing to make your job easier?

  • Do you need anything else from me as a manager?

  • Do you have everything you need to be as competent as you can be?

Be sure to accept feedback graciously and to express appreciation, just as you expect your employees to do.  It is often said that people leave managers, not jobs. Asking these questions will enable you to find out what works best with a particular employee and work with them as an individual.

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