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Negativity in the workplace detrimental to productivity

Keeping workers motivated can be a tough task for organisations in any sector. However, when staff are disengaged their attitude towards the job is likely to be negative, letting those attitudes spread across the rest of the enterprise can have a massive impact on productivity.

Workers who have a pessimistic state of mind are more likely to become defensive and mentally fatigued, according to research from the University of Michigan*.

“The moral of this story is not that we want people to stop raising concerns within the company, because that can be extremely beneficial. But constantly focusing on the negative can have a detrimental effect on the individual,” explained Russell Johnson, Associate Professor of Management at Michigan State University’s College of Business.

This research is the first of its kind to look at the effects of both positive and negative suggestions made to individual employees. In total, over 300 workers from sectors such as accounting, retail and manufacturing were included in the survey.

The report noted that employees who regularly flag issues are often only highlighting other workers’ shortcomings. This is destructive in two ways. Firstly, the member of staff raising the issue can become mentally fatigued – and then negative – if they regularly point out flaws. Secondly, relationships in the workplace are put under strain.

Good business practice is to maintain a positive workplace atmosphere while also remaining open to constructive criticism. Having a defined system which is outlined during the employee induction process to deal with feedback is important, as is continually backing that up more informally across the time each worker spends with the company.

Research from Executive Leadership** pointed out that if negativity is allowed to take hold, departments or entire companies can quickly be affected if it isn’t reined in quickly. To that end, the most forward-thinking enterprises will seek to identify problems before they become long-term issues.

*University of Michigan, ‘Workplace negativity can hurt productivity’.

**Executive Leadership, ‘A manager’s guide to overcoming negativity in the workplace’.

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