The Sky is Falling

The Sky is falling…The Sky is falling.

Am I the only one who feels that this has become the battle cry of the modern workplace?

I spent the last few months in a variety of companies and after a long day of work today I noticed a trend has formed. It does not matter if the company is successful on Wall Street. It does not matter if the company is publicly traded, or if they are privately held.

The pattern that has developed in my research is that employees of all these companies are inherently negative. The people I speak with in offices, the hallways, or courtyards all seem to possess the gift of prophecy. “Something BAD is going to happen.” I did not realize that a requirement to bag my groceries is the ability to predict the future, and I wish I was simply taking a literary license to be cynical here. I was literally standing at the register in my local grocery store when the young man leaned over from bagging my purchases and asked if I knew where he could get a job. I was initially impressed with his boldness and was willing to hear him out. After all, I work in a branch of Human Resources full-time, and I assumed he may have picked up on this somehow. Then this young man looked around leaned over, a look that was more at home in a suspense movie where the villain is ready to reveal his secret plan of mass destruction, and whispered the following to me:

“I don’t know if you know this, but from my assessment of this organization the end is near. I’ve been doing some calculations and we will be the next…(Pregnant Silence)….You are going to need to find somewhere else to buy your deli meat…Don’t get me wrong it’s a good place to work but I know these type of things. Shhhhh don’t tell anyone, we would hate for it to get out. I just have to find work before it goes down.”

Of course!

I forgot the 19-year-old grocery bagger is moonlighting as the CFO for a 70-year-old LLC.

I was so torn between my emotions that I walked out and nearly forgot my beloved Diet Dr. Pepper. I was so proud of myself.I contained my emotions…sort of

I made it all 100 meters to my car before I laughed so hard that tears rolled down my cheeks. In retrospect tears may have been a more appropriate response. Company after company and day after day I speak with employees who live in fear and defeat.

They show up at work with a goal to do the following:
• “Get a check…as long as they can.”
• “Put up with “this place” for the benefits.”
• “Hang in till I finish school”
• “Build my resume”
• “Wait till they really mess up and then I’ll sue”
• “put in my time…retirement is just around the corner”

If this was the extent of the sadness it would be bad enough, but unfortunately it does not end there. In fact this is just the beginning. Next is the scary realization that it is not limited to the guy bagging groceries. Who has he infected with his negativity? Is the lady in bakery thinking about leaving, from his words I should be worried about the gentleman that slices my pastrami and smoked turkey. But it does not end there. Negativity is no respecter of persons. Is the team lead, supervisor, department manager, Sr. Manager, Director, Vice President infected with this disease?

There is not an end to the pattern. And have no doubt, negativity is a disease that has caught in the workplace, and it is spreading, and spreading fast.

I’m amazed by how often I see it, and as I look around at the faces of those you can still call “healthy” the signs of the disease are showing. Tired eyes, overwhelmed, defeated speech, lack of motivation, under performance and the list of symptoms are almost as detrimental to the individual as the disease itself. And don’t kid yourself, it is there. I’ve seen this rampant in companies rated the best to work for in the US. I’ve seen this in privately held highly profitable organizations and I’ve seen it in the small mom & pop shop on the corner.

Negativity is a Cancer!

So here is quite literally the multi-million dollar question. What can we do about it?

Negativity in an organization is a cancer that must be cured or cut out. These are the only options. If left to fester there is only one eminent outcome….. DEATH!

So, to the first option, and the most difficult option, how do we “cure negativity” in the work place?
I will quickly give 3 possible options, and encourage you to come up with more, ways to cure negativity. But be warned, do not linger. If not successful the disease will only spread.

1. Communicate– This is crucial. “Keep your ear to the ground and respond.” If people in your organization are spreading discord and negativity, find out why. What is it that has them uncertain, and if in your power, FIX IT!

2. Listen– though similar to our first one there is one distinct difference in this case. This is not the time to share all your wisdom. This is the time remember the old saying…”You have 2 ears and one mouth…use them accordingly”. This is your chance to empower and engage your people by giving them a voice. The danger in the spread of negativity is that the conversation often contains a lot of truth. Listen to your people regardless of tenure or title.

3. Be the Antithesis – This is explained below; you see the quote we often see on bumper stickers of be the change you wish to see goes deeper than first glance. We can’t just change us and stay positive and hope all will be well and good. We must start a wave of counter emotion. We must be the change, AND spark the change in others. If we are going to destroy negativity in the workplace we must be positive. Plain and simple. (The Gandhi quote is below)

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.… We need not wait to see what others do.” –Gandhi

These are 3 tools that you can use to cure negativity in your workplace and the truth is like cancer the treatment may work, BUT.
Like always there is a BUT, and in this situation it is a big one. Based on how deeply rooted the negativity is in your organization we may find ourselves with only one remaining option.

We have to cut out the disease. We must find the source and go from there. Though this may impact the lives of a few individuals it will be a blessing in disguise to those around them. It will allow them the freedom to come into their own.

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We, as business leaders must encourage our people to thrive, and allowing negativity to fester will do the exact opposite.

I hope in reading this you will find yourself far more aware of the reality that is negativity in the workplace. Do not be fooled. It will take many forms: fear, doubt, anger, second guessing, insubordination, argumentativeness, resigned acceptance. All forms will cost your organization not only profit, but the support and skills of great people.

Motivation is the key to success, and it requires leaders to protect workplace morale.

Best of Success

2 thoughts on “The Sky is Falling

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    I seriously love your blog.. Pleasant colors & theme.

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    • Matt Habuda

      Yes, I did this myself and would be happy to help let me know

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