Learn more about Zestful
November 5, 2019
Brad Jamison

What is "toxic positivity" and how to avoid it in the workplace

Unhappiness is detrimentalto workplace efficiency.

Unfortunately, too many business gurus put that lesson in their books and rolled out the idea that positivity—in the face of all factors, all setbacks, and all other emotions—was the only way forward. In doing so, they started to choke out happiness in the workplace with toxic positivity.

@SitWithWit from Instagram shares her thoughts on toxic positivity compared to validation and hope
Source: @SitWithWit on Instagram

What is toxic positivity?

Toxic positivity in theworkplace is the idea of encouraging employees and yourself to only bepositive, happy, and looking on the bright side.

"Toxic positivity iswhen somebody tries to override the other person's actual emotions about asituation," explains Bianca L.Rodriguez, a licensed psychotherapist inCalifornia. "It negates that the other person actually is having anyfeelings that people may describe as negative. I like to point out thatfeelings don't have a negative or a positive, they are just what theyare."

The importance ofhappiness as it relates to efficiency

There’s no question thathappiness in the workplace is vital for employee retention and efficiency.

Economists at the University of Warwick discovered that happiness increased productivity by 12%, while unhappy workers were 10% less productive.

"We have shown thathappier subjects are more productive, the same pattern appears in fourdifferent experiments," says Dr. Eugenio Proto, one of the leadresearchers involved with this study. "This research will provide someguidance for management in all kinds of organizations, they should strive tomake their workplaces emotionally healthy for their workforce."

Experts tend to agree thathappy employees are more dedicated to their work, more driven to succeed, andmore likely to provide referrals.

"The driving forceseems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively,increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality,"explains Dr. Daniel Sgroi, who also worked on the experiments at the Universityof Warwick.

The key is to be able tocreate a happy workplace that’s open to all feelings, struggles, and problems.Because, even in moments when the workplace doesn't feel happy, it’s strivingtoward being a healthy, positive place in a real way—not just superficially.

One way to help employeesrecognize that your company goes beyond words to bring healthy positivity intothe workplace is through employee perk programs.These can involve anything from recurring programs to spotrewards or annual gifts.

A failure to hearwhat's being said

One of the primary issueswith toxic positivity is that those who are possessed by it fail to listen.

You can tell they aren’tlistening because no matter what you say, no matter what the workplace struggleis, the answer is basically the same. It’s often some variation of:

  • "Never give up!"
  • "Good vibes only!"
  • "Just be happy!"

If only true happiness wasgranted by such a glib reminder. The reality is that such responses can bedamaging in several ways.

People know that theyaren't being heard when their personal problem or workplace issues are greetedwith a generic answer. When an employee realizes they’re not being listened to, they’re less likely to share ideas and be creative inthe workplace, which can become the source of business setbacks.

Another reason that failingto listen can be a problem is that the concerns raised could impact yourbusiness if they're not addressed. If an employee is worried about the timelinefor a project and the manager just tells them to be positive, that doesn’treally solve the underlying problem about the timeline.

Failing to hear people doesn't make them any happier. In fact, it does the exact opposite.

"When people place agreat deal of pressure on themselves to feel happy, or think that others aroundthem do, they are more likely to see their negative emotions and experiences assignals of failure," Brock Bastian, a social psychologist at theUniversity of Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences in Australia, told TIME magazine."This will only drive more unhappiness."

Failure to becompassionate

Another reason toxicpositivity can be so damaging is because such responses fail to conveycompassion.

And this is an issuebecause, Accordingto Entrepreneur, the dominant force forexceptional leadership is compassion.

Compassion, like empathy,is a person's ability to truly understand someone else's feelings and thoughts.Without that understanding, anything you say becomes empty words.

According to The Washington Post, one in three people said that they would switch companies for increased empathy, while 56% said they would stay if they felt valued, and 40% said they would work longer hours.

Along this same vein, 92%of human resource professionals say that a compassionate workplace is asignificant factor for employee retention, according to Businesssolver's 2017 Workplace Empathy Monitor report.

Coworkers and managers who apply blind optimism to a person's real feelings and real problems fail to show empathy and compassion. Instead, they unintentionally create what is, ironically, a passive-aggressive and hostile work environment, which is the root of the problem with the issue of toxic positivity.

How to avoid toxicpositivity

Given the damage toxicpositivity can have in the workplace, it's crucial to be able to recognize itand address it or, ideally, avoid it completely.

The good news? Toxicpositivity tends to be pretty easy to spot. It’s usually overly simple, doesn'tacknowledge pain, and uses all or nothing language.

It also rarely uses any of the words in the original concern raised. When someone says, “I’m having a rough day”, and you respond with “Just be happy!”, your lack of acknowledging their pain makes it seem like you weren’t even listening.

Interestingly enough, you can combat your own toxic positivity by actively embracing negativity. This doesn't mean wallowing in your sorrows, but certainly does mean taking a breath, looking it straight in the eyes, and acknowledging that those feelings are just as valid (and healthy) as the positive ones.

Along these same lines, you can prevent yourself from spouting nonsensical toxic positivity by avoiding what’s called positive spin. Everybody naturally knows to try and look on the bright side in times of trouble; you proactively trying to bring it about isn't going to make a difference. So, instead, strive to hear what a person is telling you and be compassionate.

If you're worried aboutfacing co-workers' or managers' toxic positivity, the key is to not allow theone-liners to shut you down. Ask follow-up questions that require more complicatedanswers than "never give up!”.

Not all positivity is toxic

Just because toxicpositivity can cause real damage in your life and workplace doesn't meanpositivity, in general, is to be avoided altogether.

We can think of a fewsituations where, instead of "seeing the good in everything", there’smore value in stopping to recognize that a coworker is facing a difficultsituation. Once you've let them know that you understand, you can offer to helpuntangle the issue when the moment is right.

Without a doubt, there’s agreat deal of power in having a positive mindset. But that power is not capableof overriding all obstacles in all situations. Instead, you’ll be better offanalyzing any given situation and being honest about how you feel—and what thedata says. From there, you can consider if a more positive outlook is going tobe the best way to move forward.

Final thoughts: How toavoid toxic positivity in the workplace

Though there are many goodreasons to strive to create a happy workplace, you will want to develop an environment where such positivity is morethan skin deep.

Toxic positivity is worse than a Band-Aid to a problem. Toxic positivity is like squeezing a lemon into a cut—and we can all imagine how that must feel.

When a work environmentdoesn't make room for people to be human—and deal with the sorts of strugglesthat come with being human—it quickly becomes a toxic place. Listening and empathizing with people in the workplace creates a supportiveenvironment where people can personally and professionally thrive.

Given what's at stake, do what you can to stomp out toxic positivity before it cripples your team and company. And, take things a step further by creating employee perk programs that put your money where your mouth is. Start today:

Zestful: recognize and reward your employees—minus the admin work.

What are you waiting for?

Trusted by companies and teams of all sizes.
Loved by teams at these great companies
© Copyright 2020, Zestful, Inc. All rights reserved.
Terms of Service | Privacy Policy