Negativity can spread through workplaces and organisations like a virus. It’s so easy to become negative at work and everyone is guilty of it at some point. The real danger is when negativity becomes a permanent part of a person’s attitude or the workplace culture. It becomes a downward spiral.

What causes workplace negativity?

One of the roots of negativity lies in a pessimistic outlook. One pessimistic comment turns into two and then three, and before you know it there’s a wave of pessimism that overtakes everything and everyone. It’s a phenomenon called ‘social contagion’.

Fortunately optimism and positivity can, with time and effort, become a habit in the same way as negativity can. Positive emotions and a positive outlook can become just as entrenched in individuals and in workplaces.

In a workplace, one of the keys is to have a few individuals who are willing to be ‘positive deviants’. This means that they’re willing to deviate from the norm in a positive way.

And while there’s no obligation for any of us to share what we know about wellbeing or to lead positive change at work, there are many benefits to doing so.

One ember can start an entire bushfire.

Even though everyone else is complaining about long hours, poor management, or a heavy workload, YOU can take a stand and choose to be positive. Share your good mood. Talk about what IS working well.

Eventually it will rub off on someone and you’ll have doubled the good vibes travelling around the office. It’s not going to rub off on everyone but it can start some positive social contagion!

Action Steps

If you’d like to be part of a workplace that values and cares about the wellbeing of the employees, you don’t need management to do it for you!

Here are 5 of the dozens of ways you can make a positive difference for the people around you at work – often without any extra effort of your part.

1. Be part of the solution
Don’t dwell on problems; instead be the first to offer solutions and then ask your colleagues for more.

2. Don’t always stay silent about negativity
You do not have to be a sounding board that absorbs all of the office negativity. Sometimes it’s best to suggest how things could be viewed or done differently for a more positive outlook.

3. Listen to co-workers concerns but don’t let them complain to you
Ask them what they can do to help make the situation better. Help them identify positive aspects that they can take away from a difficult situation or area not currently going well.

4. Acknowledge failure. It makes it OK for your colleagues to do the same and defines failure as part of the process of getting better.

5. Take care of yourself. Exercise, don’t overwork, take a break. A balanced team, mentally and physically, is a successful team. Model it, encourage it, support it!

Which approach will you try first? 


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Adele Sinclair is a wellness coach and trainer who focuses on mental wellbeing at work. She has a background in management and experienced job burnout twice as a result of ongoing work stress. If you liked this article, you'll love Adele's coaching programs to help you with strategies for a great worklife.