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How being negative at work affects your productivity

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I’ve written a few times about the apparent unpopularity of those who strive to do things differently at work, with those in thrall to the status quo doing all in their power to maintain things just as they are.

Indeed, one study from last year highlighted how important emotional intelligence was for an organizational radical, as that enables them to know which battles to fight, and which to let go.

Of course, we want employees to point the things they perceive as wrong, as that’s usually the only way that we can go about improving things.

A recent study highlights, however, how employees that do this may actually be doing themselves more harm than good.The emotional cost of pointing out problems

The study reveals that highlighting things that are wrong in the workplace is likely to lead to both mental fatigue and also a defensive approach to work, which when combined will probably result in a fall in the productivity of the employee.

Whilst this isn’t so good, the study does however also suggest that when employees propose ways for things to get better, this can have a much more positive effect on their productivity.

The importance, the researchers suggest, is to therefore strike a good balance between highlighting the negative and proposing the positive.

“The moral of this story is not that we want people to stop raising concerns within the company, because that can be extremely beneficial,” the researchers point out. “But constantly focusing on the negative can have a detrimental effect on the individual.”

The authors believe that their study is the first of its kind, and set out to explore the impact both negative and positive workplace suggestions can have on the person making the suggestions.

Two separate surveys were used across several hundred employees across a range of industries, including retail, manufacturing, healthcare and accounting.

The results revealed that employees who primarily focused on pointing out what is wrong in their organization may suffer mental fatigue.  They believe this is probably because they’re pointing out flaws in the work of their colleagues, which can cause tensions between them.

“The irony of that is, when people are mentally fatigued they’re less likely to point out problems anymore,” the researchers say. “In addition, their own work performance suffers, they’re less likely to be cooperative and helpful, and they even exhibit deviant behaviors such as being verbally abusive and stealing from the employer.”

What should companies do?

The authors suggest that the best way to counter this phenomenon is to provide some kind of reward for employees whose suggestions lead to improvements.

“In that case, maybe other employees would be more accepting of someone pointing out errors if they know this is what the company wants them to do – that the person isn’t acting outside the norm,” they say.

Of course, the key to all of this is to ensure that any ideas are actually implemented, as it’s only then that the improvements are actually made.  Developing a culture of experimentation is therefore crucial as it empowers employees to take responsibility for improvements they believe are long overdue.

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