It is possible to be too positive in the workplace. Acknowledging the negative aspects of life is actually crucial to having a happy and successful workplace.
By Tim Dimoff
Is there such a thing as being too positive in the workplace? On the surface it would seem that being extremely positive is a good thing, but being too positive can actually have a negative effect on your employees and workplace culture. Understanding the definition of toxic positivity in the workplace is the first step to addressing the issue. In simple terms, it is the continuous effort or pressure to focus on positive things/feelings while ignoring or dismissing the negative ones. Toxic positivity prioritizes happiness over all else, ignoring real, negative emotions. This actually makes individuals feel invalidated, unseen, and unheard, leading to distrust, problems, and lack of empathy and dissent. It often comes from managers and leaders who are trying to downplay any negative feelings. In reality, it actually does the exact opposite as it plays into our fears and desires to avoid experiencing negative situations or emotions.
While the effort to be positive in a professional setting is good, an unwavering devotion to optimism minimizes or disregards when someone is in emotional pain, and it often makes them believe that they should not experience negative feelings. They think that they should feel or pretend that all is well when it isn’t. Your invalidation of their feelings can take a mental toll on employees, as well as negatively affect their work performance. It can also contribute to burnout, anxiety, depression and shame.
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As an employer, you should be aware of ways in which you may unwittingly be contributing to toxic positivity. While optimism is good, there are ways in which you may be contributing and not even realize it. Some of these include fostering a family mentality. Others include using expressions of “everything is fine,” “be positive,” “look on the bright side,” “get over it,” “tough it out,” etc. These are actually trigger phrases. While you may believe that you are being helpful and encouraging to someone in distress, you are actually disregarding their true, legitimate emotions.
Here are some steps you can take to eliminate toxic positivity in the workplace:
- Encourage more honesty and openness at work. This starts at the top with management.
- Incorporate realistic positivity. Phrases like “don’t worry – you’ve got this” or “let’s work together to address your challenges” acknowledge an employee’s struggle while encouraging them at the same time.
- Check in with your employees. Ask your employees if they are ok and if they have the tools and the support they need.
- Educate yourself. Your understanding of toxic positivity will help employees feel encouraged instead of emotionally invalidated.
- Encourage discussion. Make your workplace a place where challenges and concerns can be openly and honestly discussed.
Toxic positivity prioritizes happiness while ignoring negative emotions. This will prevent your workplace from succeeding. Acknowledging the negative aspects of life is actually crucial to having a happy and successful workplace.
President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security ExpertTimothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.