How important is positivity in a work environment?
According to a report from the Work Trend Index Report, which includes a cross-industry survey of 31,000 people around the world, 46% of respondents said a positive culture at work is very important.
Not only is it important – it’s effective. Really effective. Research shows that positive work cultures actually make people more productive.
But what about when workplace positivity gets taken too far?
What about when “we’re here for you,” and “we care about how you’re feeling”…
Turns into “just stay positive!” and “don’t stress out about that!”?
There’s actually a term for this phenomenon: toxic positivity.
This occurs when negative emotions of any kind are dismissed, and met with forceful positivity. Instead of being met with compassion and understanding, they are undermined or ignored.
It can happen in any setting – at home, with your friends, and, of course, in the workplace. Especially in the workplace!
This can cause employees to feel like they’re not being seen by their higher ups. That their feelings of stress, worry, and frustration aren’t being taken seriously. That they don’t matter.
We had a client share with us recently that one of the high-level managers at his company had been shaming their employees for expressing such sentiments.
They were feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and under-appreciated.
This could have been the perfect opportunity for the manager to welcome the feedback. For her to practice active listening, compassion, and empathy.
But what she did instead was tell them to “just stay positive.”
So then, on top of feeling stressed and overwhelmed… Her employees felt dismissed and alienated.
I suggested to the CEO that he could take this opportunity to redefine positivity for his managers.
Instead of thinking of positivity in the workplace as paramount, think of it as a north star. Of course we want our employees to feel positive, excited, and engaged at work all the time… But that just isn’t realistic. Life happens.
Sometimes the best thing you can do as a manager is simply be present – fully present – to an employee’s authentic experience. Hold space for their full spectrum of emotion – even the uncomfortable and messy ones.
This will foster an atmosphere of trust and respect that can create a win/win for employers AND employees – something that continues to be increasingly vital in today’s evolving workplace.
I am by no means advocating for a barrage of negativity in the workplace.
But I am advocating for being present to people’s humanity. To really listen to them. To hold space for their concerns. To acknowledge their frustrations. To meet them in the middle.
It is that manager who is going to foster a truly positive work environment.
And the really good news is that this ability can be learned. Our Signature Program teaches companies how to do just that: cultivate an environment of acceptance and compassion for our humanity, while encouraging an engaged, focused, and productive workplace.
P.S. In those times when someone may be suffering from more serious mental health issues, make sure to help them get support from a licensed professional.