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Managing workplace negativity

Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs


In the small business world, where competitors are always at your heels, you have a small number of employees doing a huge amount of work, and then added to this, the pressure of the doom and gloom economy, negativity is bound to be a problem. You have to be the one to motivate your employees to keep a positive outlook.

Nothing lowers employee morale - and therefore your productivity - more than persistent negativity. With so much bad news in the economy and workers being retrenched on mass, you can't blame your employees for feeling insecure and less than optimistic.

Negativity is extremely contagious. It can start with one disgruntled employee and slowly permeate through the office until the atmosphere is consistently gloomy. It's important that you keep an eye out for this and take action to turn the mood around. Ignoring it can make it an even bigger distraction and lead to unneccsary tensions among employees to creep up.

What can you do?

  • Set up an internal communication system where employees can air their views anonymously. They may not say things if you ask directly, so allow them to express anxiety in another forum, such as suggestion boxes, through a supervisor or quick and easy employee surveys
  • Listen to what your people are saying and take action. Try not to get angry about negativity, but rather find solutions to their issues
  • If a staff member is known to be unhappy, call him in for a one-one. Talk generally about what is happening at work or in his life. Speak to his value in the company and ask what you can do to help him feel more positive
  • Be an example. If you talk in negative terms - "the economy is bad for business", "this product will never work" - you can't expect your staff members to be positive

Being positive and trying to find silver linings in every tough situation, is just as contagious as negativity. If you have a positive outlook, it will have the same effect on your employees. Encourage positive talk, use it yourself and give recognition where it is due.

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