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The 5 Causes of Employee Negativity

Understand the Causes to Prevent and Deal with Negativity at Work

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negative employee holds face frown picture over her face

Employee Negativity Is Generally Caused by the Organization's Actions and Expectations

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The typical workplace has its ups and downs in terms of employee negativity. Many workplaces are trying to be employee oriented. But, even the most employee oriented workplace can shudder under the weight of negative thinking.

When employers understand the causes of employee negativity and put in place measures to prevent employee negativity, negativity fails to gain a foothold in the work environment.

I've written about how an employer can prevent negativity from occurring at work. I’ve also written about what to do about workplace negativity that already exists. The persistent question I receive from managers is: What really causes employee negativity?

Causes of Employee Negativity

A recent study answers the question about what causes employee negativity. The study, conducted by Towers Perrin and researchers Gang & Gang, surveyed a randomly selected group of 1,100 employees and 300 senior Human Resources executives working for mid-sized and large-sized companies in the United States and Canada.

Participants were asked to describe their feelings about their current work experience, They were also invited to describe an "ideal" work experience. According to Employee Benefit News, the study “used a unique emotion-based research technique called Resonance, which captured participants' spontaneous emotional responses to the total work experience.”

The study determined that the reasons for most of the employee negativity included these that I call the big five:

  • An excessive workload

  • Concerns about management’s ability to lead the company forward successfully

  • Anxiety about the future, particular longer-term job, income and retirement security

  • Lack of challenge in their work, with boredom intensifying existing frustration about workload

  • Insufficient recognition for the level of contribution and effort provided, and concerns that pay isn't commensurate with performance.

The Employer’s Challenge in Addressing Employee Negativity

In my own experience, intensifying any of these factors causes employee negativity. Knowing about these causes of employee negativity enables you to take action to prevent or eliminate employee negativity. Here are several examples.

  • If you lose an employee and divide the work across several remaining employees, you foster employee negativity unless employees have the end in sight – a new employee with an expected arrival date.

  • Companies that experience a business downturn will experience negativity. Employees are concerned about both management and their future with the company. Insecure employees are negative and looking for the worst to happen. Following a period of financial woes, management has to work hard to regain employee trust.

  • An employee who applies for a promotional opportunity and does not get the job can be extremely negative, especially if promotional opportunities are perceived as limited. You must take great care to make sure your promotion system is fair and that employees know exactly what they need to do to get ready for the next opportunity.

  • Employees love recognition for their work. They also like to see salary increases for contributing employees. One of the most significant causes of employee negativity occurs when employees believe poor contributors received raises – especially when their own raise was below their expectations.

This is a snapshot of causes of employee negativity. If you can eliminate these five, you have gone a long way in the direction of building a positive, supportive work environment. You’ve minimized the potential for employee negativity.

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