"If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me," quipped Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of President Theodore, who was renowned for her "brilliantly malicious" humor. Unfortunately for people with such a sense of humor, those on the receiving end tend not to be amused.
Employers should not be amused either because employees who aim their malicious humor (brilliant or otherwise) toward their co-workers are helping to create a negative work environment that is costly to everyone involved.
Indeed, those who disparage others, as well as those who are disagreeable, gloomy, pessimistic, hostile, or just downright unpleasant cost employers about $3 billion annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you've ever worked with a disparaging, disagreeable, gloomy, pessimistic, hostile, or unpleasant person, you know why the cost is so high: persistent negativity drains the energy out of everyone, causing a decrease in motivation, creativity, productivity and happiness.
Don't just take my word for it. In their article "Words Can Change Your Brain," Mark Waldman and Andrew Newberg, M.D., report that seeing the word "no" releases dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters in one's brain, and saying the word "no" releases even more. Hearing "no" causes stress for the listener because it activates his or her stress chemicals as well. If just hearing "no" causes a person to become stressed, imagine what being subjected to negativity on a regular basis does to people.
I'm not saying that employers should now ban the word "no" from the workplace. Additionally, I've mentioned in previous articles that Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects employees' right to discuss their work conditions in an effort to improve them, so I'm definitely not suggesting that employers tell their employees they can no longer complain about work. What I am saying is that employers should not allow negative employees to spread their negativity to everyone else.
Address the issue by meeting privately with the employee and:
* Tell the employee about the negative behavior you have observed or heard about.
* Explore what might be causing the negativity. If it's because of legitimate work-related issues, the conversation goes in a different direction. If the response is something like "this is just the way I am" or "you'd be negative too if you had the life I have" then proceed to the next step.
* Explain the impact of the negative behavior on others and the need for change.
* Create and agree on some strategies for change.
* Follow up with the employee and provide feedback.
All of that would sound something like this: "Robin, I want to talk to you about something that is concerning me. I don't know if you are aware of this, but you frequently make disparaging remarks about your co-workers. For example, in our staff meeting yesterday, you told Steve that his degree would mean something if he had gone to a real college, you told Don that the 1980s called and they want his suit back, and you mimicked the way Sally talks by saying the word "like" at the beginning of every sentence. And, that was just in one meeting!
"Are you upset with your co-workers about something? No? Then, you need to know that those kinds of remarks are causing your co-workers to not want to work with you, and I need everyone to work together. I'm not saying you need to change your personality; I am saying you need to refrain from making fun of your co-workers. Let's meet next Friday to see how your week went."
While most employers dread conversations like the above, addressing the issue will benefit them, the rest of their staff, and the employee on the receiving end as well because allowing someone to regularly express their negativity doesn't do them any favors either.
The words we use create the world we live in. Addressing negativity will help to ensure that your working world is a positive one.
-- Robin Paggi is the training coordinator at Worklogic HR Legal Solutions. Reach her at email@example.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.