Negativity in the workplace is brutal. I’m not even talking about the normal culprits like gossip or ineffective managers confusing ‘accountability’ and ‘scaring their employees.’ That’s a part of it — that’s certainly negativity in the workplace — but it goes beyond that to overall employee engagement, which is somewhere under 20% globally and has been for much of the past three years per Gallup. That means that less than 1 in 5 global employees is ‘engaged’ by their work. This is borne out in the U.S. too: 23 percent of full-time U.S. employees report looking for a new job every single day, and that includes ones who self-report as happy at work.
This has huge implications for customer experience and customer-driven growth, because ultimately your employees take care of your customers. If your employees are unhappy and disengaged, what do you think that will mean for your customers?
Negativity In The Workplace: Where It Begins
Workplaces can be confusing. There’s great research from MIT’s Sloan School of Management on 11,000+ managers from 400+ companies in multiple industries. The research shows how unclear priorities often are in workplaces. Only one-third of senior managers could correctly identify their CEO’s priorities. When you drop 2-3 levels below the C-Suite, there’s essentially a vacuum around priorities — which means that middle managers are prioritizing themselves, and that means regular employees (the ones typically closest to the customer) are working on projects daily that may or may not have resonance to the actual organizational priorities.
We want workplaces to be very logical (and process-driven), but because they’re made up of human beings, they are actually very emotionally-driven places. After a long stretch of working on unclear and constantly-shifting priorities, engagement begins to drop and negativity in the workplace begins to rise up. It varies by company and industry, but this can be a major root cause of negativity in the workplace.
Negativity In The Workplace: What Do You Do?
My three-step process for overcoming negativity in the workplace revolves around:
- Enable employees
- Honor employees
- Trust employees
What does that look like in practice?
Enable employees: This means letting employees work on tasks and projects that are tied to organizational priority, and letting them have some ownership over aspects of those tasks and jobs. If you hired someone based on their background or perceived skill sets, don’t micromanage every aspect of their job. Let them show those skill sets — and if they mess up or do something off-brand or not customer-aligned, course correct with them. The fraught part of enabling employees is what we discussed above — oftentimes, people throughout an organization are unclear on what the priorities actually are. If that’s the case, how can you be sure you’re enabling employees to work on the right things? This all begins with moving towards One-Company Leadership — connected silos, not dueling silos — and for an idea of how to do that, read this post on organizational decision-making.
Honor employees: This refers to rewards, be it in the form of compensation or perks or something else. One surefire way to establish negativity in the workplace is to have a bunch of people working hard and putting in 60+ hour weeks and not feeling rewarded. Eventually, a person will leave that environment — and then you just lost organizational knowledge and/or customer experience expertise, dependent on role. That’s hard to instantly replace, and you’re going to be lagging behind your market if you lose too many people like that. More importantly, you’ll be presenting disjointed, on-the-fly solutions to customers. This is the real cost of turnover. Most studies indicate people leave managers, not jobs. Part of honoring employees is about better managerial training on how to give praise and criticism (confuses many managers in many companies). Another part is having systems in place where people can earn extra money or rewards for certain tasks or achieved metrics. If there’s not a system set up to honor employees doing good work, negativity in the workplace will grow. You need that system.
Trust employees: These are your internal customers, and you’re dedicating a large percentage of your earned money to pay them salaries. As a result, trust them. They won’t always be perfect — and when they’re off-base, course correct with them. But trust them to do their jobs, and trust that your company is Aligning Around Experience and pursuing One-Company Leadership. If both of those are happening, there will be a lot more clarity on employee roles and responsibilities. That hopefully allows for more trust, more enabling, more honoring — and less negativity in the workplace.
You can find dozens of examples of companies who do all three things right in my books or throughout this blog.