Root Causes of Workplace Negativity

Negativity in the workplace decreases job satisfaction.
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Workplace negativity and the resulting reduction in teamwork, job satisfaction and productivity cost businesses billions of dollars yearly. The cost of hiring and training new employees is, by itself, an enormous cost to many companies. In a competitive business climate, a business that can identify and tackle negativity and diminish its effects has a competitive advantage. There are several root causes of these poor attitudes to consider as you try to turn those frowns upside down.

A Few Bad Apples

    Since employees make a business, negativity is a personnel problem. Often a few employees breed highly contagious workplace negativity. Sometimes the cause will be something you can directly assist the employee is dealing with. Other times the employee may have a substantial life event to deal with and may benefit from an extra day off. Such simple things as a personality conflict among peers or in supervisor/subordinate relationships can breed negativity that spreads to the entire team.


    Work stress is a contributing factor to negativity. Meeting deadlines, whether realistic ones or not, can lead to tension and an overwhelmed feeling. Often an employee will give up on meeting a deadline, considering it unreachable and will infect your team with the negative bug. Staff placed in positions requiring different skills than the employee possesses, with little hope for advancement or better placement, can lead to infection dissatisfaction. Commission sales also may lead to tension and negativity between top performers and those who fail to meet sales standards. Employees who feel stress about low job security are often more negative about a firm than those who feel the company will invest in them for a considerable time.

Poor Communication

    Poor communication between management and staff can cause negativity. When management fails to carefully explain expectations or fails to explain how an activity moves the firm closer to accomplishing its mission statement, employees may feel disenfranchised and negative. Frequent sweeping changes or programs intended to fix a firm's ills may lead to many of these same problems as employees often resist change and may lose faith in the new initiatives knowing they will soon be replaced by the next fad. Managers who fail to offer positive feedback when due or who offer frequent or questionable negative feedback create a sense of "us versus them" which leads to anxiety and negativity. Employees who do not feel their opinions are heard or appreciated can become apathetic and negative.


    Compensation can become a substantial cause of workplace negativity when salary amounts are shared freely. This often applies to salaried management who receive substantial, highly publicized bonuses well in excess of the amount paid to nominal employees. Corporate success that doesn't breed increased compensation or profit sharing can lead to frustration and negativity. Even differences in the compensation level of different job types can also contribute to negativity. For example, the level of physical effort needed for a factory CEO is considerably lower than an employee working on an assembly line. Some equate the value of a job by the effort exuded, and when a job with more perceived effort pays less than those with less perceived effort, negativity may ensue.

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