April 24, 2017

Positivity vs. Negativity in the Workplace

By Jim Annis, CEO


It’s morning. You wake up, throw your feet over the bed and – oops! – there’s the family dog. What do you do? Kick the dog? Or pet the dog? That’s always been my litmus test about whether a person has a positive versus negative attitude. I would pet the dog … err … if I had one.

What about in the work setting? I can honestly say that I used to work for the most negative guy in the world. The perspective taught me that positivity is so much more important that anyone realizes. Workplace attitudes affect every person in the organization, from the employees to the company owner – and it truly starts from the top. Attitudes influence the overarching workplace environment, which in turn determines employee morale, productivity and team-building abilities. Understanding this relationship is an important tool in creating a harmonious workplace — but even more important, it is imperative to develop a great place to work with high employee engagement.


Accepting a compliment gracefully or helping to create a positive atmosphere itself releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Bottom line: People’s brains respond to positivity naturally.

Being positive for positive’s sake isn’t enough. I’ve also learned over the years that positivity has to be genuine. Over the years, my employees have taught me that my optimism can get in the way of being real at times, which can impede decision-making. We have all run across people who are positive but they are more “sizzle than steak,” or there is something artificial going on. Authenticity is invaluable. The loudest, biggest, most popular person at a party isn’t the steak – their sizzle is “all about me.”

Successful leaders are typically positive, not negative. When you are truly interested in maintaining relationships with colleagues, have sincere interest in a person, provide support for one another, are kind and compassionate, forgive mistakes, inspire one another – all these are aspects of positivity in the workplace. If you are truly thrilled when you see other people succeed, that is an example of meaningful work. Meaningful work builds loyalty in any organization and provides a sense of security.

The Inevitable

Sooner or later you will get the negative employee. Typical characteristics include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, labeling, jumping to conclusions and blaming others. Negativity leads to distrust, a cutthroat environment, pressure and stress, and it’s harmful to productivity. Negative-attitude employees are typically hard to manage and you get sucked into the negativity. Overcoming that one toxic person is exhausting. In fact, it takes five positive comments to overcome one negative. However, being a critical thinker does not mean you are negative. You cannot have a kumbaya. You need some type of tension at work as an impetus to change, or you would be bored and lack innovation.

How to Get It

Dale Carnegie said, “It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” Life’s obstacles are limitless. A positive attitude at work – starting at home with petting the dog – is the only way to minimize negative impacts and maximize joy. Who doesn’t want to be joyful?

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied's COO, contributed to this article.

View original in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

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