Negative Effects of Positivity – Think Twice Before Enforcing Complete Positivity in the Workplace

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These days the concept of “positive thinking” is at its peak and cannot pass unnoticed. We see motivational quotes all over our social media no matter what group we are in. We are taught to smile and stay kind and positive all the time regardless of the circumstances. This trend goes so far that it actually claims that the more troubles we have the more positive we should be, since this can transform the energy and turn our lives around. 

Positive thinking penetrates all aspects of modern life and streamlines right into our workplaces. Whether you are a senior level manager of a regular employee, you have definitely seen countless articles on positive office cultures and a hundred ways to make it part of your work environment. And yet, hand in hand with a global trend of positivity the statistics shows that over 18% of the US population suffers from an anxiety disorder. Millions of people all over the world have depression, even more have anxiety, and we don’t even know how many are on the edge or haven’t been diagnosed. 

We all have mood swings from time to time and can feel a little blue. This is due to human nature and a normal way of life. Not everything is, can, and should be excellent all the time. Smiling when you want to cry does not help the situation, all it does is bury your negativity deep inside which affects your life and your health overtime, like an undercover spy until the anxiety kicks in. 

So, does it mean that we all should take off our smiles and turn into grumpy puddles of misery? Of course not! And yet, if you want to improve your office culture and overall work performance, you might want to think about the best approach of how to go about it before adding another 3 positive points to you company values.

The mask of positivity

The most worrying side of global positivity in the workplace for me is that it is regularly used to cover issues. You don’t have to go all in and tell your employees that you are afraid that the company is going under. But admitting issues and outlining that you have a potential solution is much better then raving about an absolute success while cutting down on budget, refusing raises, and delaying long anticipated office renovations. Especially when all this is written right on your face. Yes, you control yourself but there are still plenty of times when a little delay between leaving a difficult meeting and putting your shinning smile back on will not stay unnoticed by your employees.

Hiding issues will leave your team with a feeling of uncertainty and the theories they could build in their heads, might be much worse than the actual reality. Be honest and transparent, you can and should hold back a bit, but outlining company problems can create a healthier working environment, improve trust, and even bring new solutions to the table.

Praising as motivation for improvements

You should be attentive to your employees. There is nothing worse than to neglect and undervalue your hardworking team. Make sure to stay on top of individual triumph of your team members. It is true that a small “thank you” can go a long way, and create a strong company culture with mutual respect and loyalty.

This being said you have to be attentive to when, how, whom you are praising. There many examples when managers tend to overpraise underperforming employees in the hope for them to change and step it up. This might seem like a good idea in theory, in essence, what we are trying to achieve is to make the employee happier so that he or she will be more willing to work harder and improve their performance. This might work in case when one of your loyal and strong employees made a mistake and lost some confidence. In this situation your reassurance can work wonders and motivate them to get them back on track with more passion and devotion than ever before.

In practice though, many managers don’t have enough time and attention to detail to dig into the true reasons for the underperforming employee. The consequences are unstructured and random rounds of applause for weaker employees, while neglecting and ignoring your strongest players. The answer to why this can happen is simple – you have more thoughts about your underperforming team members than the workers doing a great job. We focus our attention on the issues, not on something that is going smoothly. In the end we establish a stronger emotional connection with weaker team member without paying to much attention to others. And although your intentions are good, this misbalance can lead to loss of loyalty from your over-performing employees while at the same time reassuring your weaker ones that they are doing great. In the end this positive thinking can break the whole team.

To avoid this, make sure to have regular performance reviews for all team members. Praise people for outstanding work and stability not mediocre performance. It is fair to say that mediocre for some is outstanding for others. In this case take your appreciation personally to your team member avoiding public announcements that will trigger stronger employees to compare themselves and feel neglected and underappreciated.

Anyone can achieve anything

While we all wat to believe that this is true, it is important to add a “but” to this dream. Let’s rephrase. Anyone can achieve anything within their strength, not within their ultimate weaknesses. Speaking about weaknesses, I mean undeniable weaknesses. There is nothing wrong in being more successful in some areas and less in others. The holy grail for all of us, and particularly managers is to find and leverage the strongest sides of each of our employees.

If you have a team member that is underperforming, or even if you find yourself in these shoes, you might want to consider stopping the mantra of “anything is possible, I just have to push harder”.  It will work in case you are missing a few skills that you can learn, but it will not work in case there is no predisposition to success. Instead of giving hundreds of motivational sessions for the weakest employees and overpraising for mediocre performance, it could be a much better decision to let that person go. Do not push the person to a mental breakdown, watching everything go down in ashes until you both can’t stand it anymore. Instead, look at it as a chance to start something new and more successful for all parties involved. If you value the personality of your employee, think where his or her skills can be used to their full potential and offer an alternative position. But do not hide failure under the mask of positivity.

Create a positive reality not positive thinking

No matter what social media says, negativity and problems are ultimate tools for success. Being comfortable and content will not create as much drive for improvement as constructive criticism. We learn from our mistakes and therefore we should not be afraid of them. Criticize yourself, criticize your employees, and let them criticize you. However, make it your mission to take that criticism on and act on it. Praise yourself and your team for outstanding results and motivate them to grow, not to stay where they are.

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