Organizational Wellness

Six Ways to Address Negativity in the Workplace

Aug 21, 2023
Last Updated May 22, 2024

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Nobody likes a negative Nancy.” Venting and complaining can have its place, but the sentiment rings true — constant negative talk, body language, and attitude is draining on everybody else! And when that type of negativity festers in your workplace, it can be a real productivity killer.

If a workplace devolves into an environment rife with tension, drama, and stress, it sets the stage for bullying and other unethical behaviors to take root. There are plenty of ways for this situation to arise — Inconsistent leadership, unrealistic workloads, little career support — but it ends up in the same place. It causes employees to feel distrustful of their work environment, decreasing engagement and satisfaction. 

By sorting out the root issue and gaining control over your company culture, you can address and prevent workplace negativity. Here are six tips for getting rid of negative behaviors in the workplace.


  1. Address Disparate Treatment and Employee Misconduct

Disparate treatment and employee misconduct can create a toxic work environment that breeds negativity, conflict, and low employee morale. Workplace discrimination can impact an employee's psychological safety and sense of belonging at work — particularly for Black and Hispanic employees, according to Gallup research. When employees feel like they're not being treated fairly or that some employees are getting away with inappropriate behavior or favoritism, it can damage trust and erode the sense of community within the workplace.

This means it’s essential for human resources leaders and employers to address these issues head-on in order to create a positive work environment where all employees are respected. You can take several steps to prevent this treatment, including implementing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, providing regular training sessions, and holding employees accountable for their behavior.

  1. Let Employees Know When Negative Attitudes Cross the Line

It's normal for employees to experience frustration in their jobs and vent to their coworkers from time to time. Maybe they dealt with a really angry or difficult customer, or their manager is being inflexible about a request and they need to blow off a little steam with someone who understands. However, when negative attitudes and behaviors begin to permeate, they can quickly create a toxic workplace that disrupts productivity and undermines morale.

Negative behaviors can include gossiping, complaining, and consistently focusing on problems rather than solutions. While it can be difficult to draw the line between normal venting and negativity, try to establish clear boundaries and redirect those conversations to prevent a work culture of negativity from taking hold.

One way to do this is to create a code of conduct that outlines acceptable behaviors and expectations for all employees. This can be communicated to each team member during onboarding and reinforced through regular training sessions and reminders. When employees know that there are consequences for negative behavior, like excessive gossiping or foul language, they might think twice before engaging in it.

But employers might have more success fostering a positive work environment by modeling positive behaviors themselves. If you're noticing an employee focusing on the challenge and their frustrations, try to encourage them to start problem-solving and think of possible solutions instead. Help them shift their mindset to a more positive attitude and even offer assistance to get them back on track.

  1. Create a Culture of Feedback and Collaboration

Ignoring employee feedback and freezing them out of the decision-making process can quickly lead to negativity at work. When employees feel like their opinions and contributions don't matter, they're more likely to disengage and may even become resentful. Companies should instead try to show team members that their input is valued and their voices are heard.

Often, your employees have real and valid concerns around the challenges they face in the workplace, whether it's burnout, their workloads, staffing challenges, customer issues, or something else. The key is to listen to your team when they approach you and let them know how their feedback is being used to make improvements through open communication. Otherwise, those concerns might turn to more negative feelings and start to fester.

One way to incorporate employee feedback is to hold regular staff meetings or leadership office hours where your team members can ask questions, share ideas, and voice concerns. You can also launch a suggestion box or online form where employees can submit feedback anonymously. To establish more collaboration between different levels of your organization, try organizing workshops and inviting representatives from different teams or roles when it's time to make strategic or process-related decisions.

  1. Offer Ways to Reduce Stress

Employees don't want to stick around in stressful or high-pressure environments because they can turn toxic fast. Workplace stress has, in fact, been linked to 50% higher employee turnover rates, according to researchers. When employees are overworked, overwhelmed, or stressed out, it can lead to burnout, absenteeism, and reduced productivity. Stress can also fuel conflict, lower morale, and make your employees more resistant to change — all of which create more negative work environments.

By reducing stress and fostering a positive workplace environment, employers can overcome negativity in the workplace and create a workforce that is happier, healthier, and more productive. The Harvard Business Review recommends practices like:

  • Creating secure, safe workplaces.
  • Emphasizing regular break times for a mental rest.
  • Allowing your team to use private workspaces to focus.
  • Setting clear boundaries around work time and personal time.

Another strategy is to offer a wellness program for your team members, with access to resources like yoga classes, meditation sessions, or mental health initiatives. These benefits help support healthy work environments and are great methods for lowering stress levels, depending on each employee's preference.

  1. Align on Company Values During Recruitment and Hiring

It's important for employers to prioritize hiring employees who are the right fit for the company's values to help ensure that new team members can collaborate with their co-workers and contribute positively to the culture. By carefully vetting employees during recruitment and hiring, you can weed out anyone who might cause conflicts and negatively impact morale.

One way to see if potential candidates are a match is to clearly communicate your organizational values and culture, and to ask targeted questions that assess their compatibility with your team. Employers can also use behavioral interviews to gain insight into how candidates have conducted themselves in past work environments. Another approach is to incorporate company values and culture into the hiring process, such as by involving current employees in the interview process or having candidates complete a skills assessment that focuses on teamwork or communication.

  1. Encourage Employees to Test Their Limits

A constant fear of failure and retribution can contribute to employee negativity in the workplace by stifling creativity, innovation, and risk-taking. If they've been punished for failing before, employees might be afraid to step out of their comfort zones or bring new ideas to the table in the future. This is one of the greatest dangers that leaders risk when they allow that kind of toxicity to seep into their workplace.

It's important for employers to recognize and reward employees who take risks and try new things, even if they don't succeed. Managers can help team members feel supported and valued, and then show them how they can improve for next time. 

Another approach is to create a culture of psychological safety where employees feel comfortable taking risks and being vulnerable. Employers can accomplish this by creating an environment where employees can openly share their ideas without worrying about retribution. For instance, in a brainstorming session, leadership can make it clear that no ideas will be shot down or judged.

Foster a Brighter Outlook Through Wellbeing

Attitudes, behaviors, and influences at work are inextricably linked to your employees’ health and wellness. Workplace stressors like bullying, lack of job control, and overwhelming demands — often a source of negativity — can lead to poor health outcomes over time. They’re known to be associated with everything from autoimmune disorders to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and even diabetes.

Negativity itself can also exaggerate some of these issues. Positive thinking, on the other hand, can lead to lower rates of depression, greater resistance from illness, and improved cardiovascular health, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While you can help reinforce positive thinking and behaviors for employees by creating a supportive environment at work, you can also invest specifically in strategies to help them support their wellbeing. A wellness program can help your team members feel cared for, address workplace stressors, and find healthy outlets to improve their outlook.

Speak to one of our Wellbeing Specialists about how to manage your employees’ health — and a positive workplace culture — through a wellness program!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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