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What to do about a gloomy workplace

The bleak economic outlook of recent years in Western countries has cast a heavy shadow on corporate morale. Companies are experiencing a wave of pessimism that prevents them from moving forward. It is up to business leaders to foster the return of a positive work environment.

A pessimist is somebody who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks. — Oscar Wilde

“There is too much to do.” “No one is helping us.” “Yet another project, gone with the wind….” Pessimism, cynicism, and overwhelming negativity can spread through the office like a contagion, leading to counterproductive behaviors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, negativity costs American companies $300 billion a year. So when a company is depressed, managers cannot just look the other way. They must act. Three key actions:

1. Identify the real problem: Realizing that internal morale is low is just the start. Coming up with effective solutions requires figuring out what exactly led to the situation. Managers can organize an internal investigation around areas such as workload, employee engagement, and recognition.

2. Give people “reasons to believe”: Once sources of negativity have been identified, managers should focus on reenergizing the collective endeavor. By encouraging individuals to build new skills and strengthening their trust, managers will foster a sense of belonging and shared company values and goals.

3. Provide an example: Even if there is no miracle solution to company problems, managers must strive to inspire people to move forward. Ways to inspire others include: telling the truth (openly acknowledging problems shows courage and can be the first step toward progress); combatting negative vibes like “I don’t want to,” “we can’t deal with it any more,” and “those days are gone”; and, finally, showing appreciation.

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What to do about a gloomy workplace

Based on “How to respond to negativity” by Peter Bregman, “Contre le pessimism ambient, l’optimisme stratégique” by Jean-Claude Guillebaud, “Five Ways to Decrease Negativity at Work” by Val Kinjerski, l’Observatoire Social de l’Entreprise, and the Baromètre Edenred Ipsos, 2012.
Business Digest nº 231, November 2012

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She spent 12 years in industry, working for Bolloré Technologies, among others. She co-founded Business Digest in 1992 and has been running the company since 1998. And she took the Internet plunge in 1996, even before coming on board as part of the BD team.