How to Identify Negativity in the Workplace

Water cooler talk matters.
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Identifying negativity in the workplace can be a complex mission. You are not going to find a dark cloud pouring rain onto frowning employees wearing “I’m Negative” shirts. Negativity is often hidden by employees who fear losing their unloved, but bill-paying jobs. Sometimes it is cleverly disguised as cynicism. Sarcastic jokes about loving the poor working conditions may be staple office banter. Learning to spot negativity -- whether blatant or hidden -- helps you form strategies to alleviate it.

    Step 1

    Watch overall workplace cohesion. Notice interactions between different departments, looking for signs of discord. Entire work sections not speaking to each other during lunch anymore is an example. Decreases in participation for extracurricular activities also may indicate worsening working conditions. Unhappy workers don’t want to spend more time around their colleagues after hours.

    Step 2

    Ask employees about their job satisfaction using both public and private methods. Some employees may wish for their comments to stay anonymous, while others may simply detest public speaking. Administer anonymous employee job satisfaction surveys periodically to monitor negativity. Add a suggestion box in the break room or set up a virtual one for more ways to gauge negativity.

    Step 3

    Get in-depth input from outspoken personnel. Stress the importance of their no holds barred feedback. Ask them to speak up for their shy, angry or indifferent co-workers. Explain how identifying negativity can help everyone. Emphasize that they will not receive retribution for their candor.

    Step 4

    Pay attention to body language for signs of negative emotion. Notice employee mannerisms throughout the workday. Workplace negativity may be a factor when usually upbeat employees lose their bouncy walks and bright smiles. Gauge the reaction of outsiders as they enter and leave the workplace. Look for body language clues. Smiling clients entering the workplace shouldn’t always walk away scowling -- this is negativity at its extreme. Noticing how you feel when you walk into the building also can prove beneficial.

    Step 5

    Ask guests to fill out satisfaction surveys to uncover problems. The survey doesn’t have to be complex. Simply asking people to rate their happiness level upon entrance and exit can speak volumes. Include more detailed questions when trying to trace problems to specific employees or departments.

    Step 6

    Review attendance and tardiness trends. Negative work environments make workers sick -- at least sick of going to work. Increased late arrivals and absences from otherwise productive employees may indicate adverse working conditions. Notice trends including excessive absences from a single department.


    • Hanging around the water cooler can allow you to hear uncut workplace attitudes.

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